Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Former 1623 trainee Nicola Morley was so blown away by Hamlet at the Barbican Centre that she felt compelled to write a review, once she had gathered her thoughts.

Benedict Cumberbatch as HamletFirstly, let me start out by saying that the process of getting tickets to see this acclaimed production was not an easy feat.

The effects of Benedict Cumberbatch’s renown began even before tickets came on sale, with the entire run sold out in 7 hours. After being 1,400th in the Barbican booking queue and going through at least 3 different other sellers' crashed websites and engaged phones, I finally managed to get my hands on two front row circle seats. I was overjoyed.

This joy was slightly tinged with worry. however. I doubt anyone can blame me for being concerned that my excited expectations of both my theatrical sweetheart at its centre and Lyndsey Turner’s direction could lead to disappointment. What if this show couldn’t live up to my hopes?

Let me tell you, however, from the moment the Barbican’s golden curtain lifted to reveal a sedate Benedict Cumberbatch on a small front stage set up, I knew it was worth every word of the hype. The set design was stunning. With the first conversation taking place on the very front of the stage in front of another plain screen, no one expected it was coming. When the screen lifted, it revealed a fittingly dark, beautifully detailed Manor House hallway adorned with sumptuous wedding floral arrangements. It set the play's ever flowing moods and energy mixed with tragic gloom.

Anastasia Hille as Gertrude and Benedict Cumberbatch as HamletI spent the show believing that the large doorways and visible halls genuinely led to the rest of the seemingly expansive manor.The set changes were seemless with the whole production possessing an endless flow. The cannon blast of soil at the end of the first half not only emphasised the menace of Claudius's (Ciaran Hinds's) threatening soliloquy, but also showed the fouling and destruction of both kingdom and family in a lastingly visual way, as it was present until the play's close. An example of the show’s perfect use of set to demonstrate its meaning, it was a spectacular but entirely fitting staging decision that left me in awe.

The show had a wonderful mood to it, with occasional modernisations and the colour palette kept dark and muted with occasional splashes of colour for the more pleasant characters (Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for example). Turner created an ever present gloom that was beautifully old fashioned but tinged with a mingling energy of modern playfulness, humour and the suspense of ever-approaching tragedy.

I must also praise the casting and the performances of the actors. As someone who has some knowledge of acting and Shakespeare, I can sometimes be a little overly critical, but I found all of the actors' performances flawless. All voices were projected with perfect subtlety and it felt as if each speaker was addressing you closely. All actors on stage had a convincing purpose and held the mood of the play from start to finish.

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Laertes and Benedict Cumberbatch as HamletBenedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet kept the mood of his character in every way. All his movements were natural and he maintained an air of the troubled soul whose underlying positive wit and character were desperate to come forward. His playful and humorous portrayals of madness, such as pretended stairway descents and flamboyant caricature of a red-coated British soldier, portrayed his loss of sanity. His grief was bright and amusing, but it also carried a deep message. He jumped from humour and mockery to the profound emotion of someone who has lost all hope on a pin head, dropping from flamboyant humour to his famous suicidal monologue in seconds, creating shock and signifying the full extent of how his damaged mind fluctuated.

Claudius, as played by Ciaran Hinds, was just as menacing, untrustworthy and sinister as you’d ever want, but with a true feeling that he is aware of what he has done. Ophelia (Sian Brooke) displayed a move from goodness, purity and positivity to a desperate grief-stricken dive to insanity, portrayed perfectly in the shaken stilted sounds of her singing and wobbly, inaccessible wanderings.

The play also included smooth and beautifully enhancing ballet, slow motion and animalistic movements, all of which elevated the meanings, significances and emotions of these moments in the play to new heights.

From the wonderful performances to the design and choreography, I have never seen a production better deserve its hype or the transfixed silence and standing ovation it received from its audience. I am still utterly spell bound and will use this show as a bench mark for other theatre that I see in the future.

 

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