Saturday, November 7, 2015

Cumberbatch's Hamlet

Luckily, the sky darkened and I did go to Hamlet, though I would have gone anyway because I am what is known as a Cumberbitch. I think he's fantastic. At one time, an actor that odd-looking, clever and eccentric would have played the witty sidekick forever; he would never have become a leading man and a sex symbol. How marvellous that he has.

And he's a marvel as Hamlet in a messy production - interestingly, directed, designed and gorgeously lit by women. There's rather too much howling and heaving, weeping and panting, everything at top volume, a lot of melodrama, Gertrude's nose running from both nostrils as she emoted. (Did they have no handkerchiefs in Elsinore?) (This was not helped by the fact that I got there close to curtain time and had to sit in the second row, a few feet from the screen.) Many of the actors, while excellent, did not come close to Cumberbatch's burning brilliance. Horatio for some reason seemed to have a bit of a neurological disorder. Claudius was too villainous from the start. Interesting ideas: for example, that Ophelia is disturbingly fragile right off the top. Some marvels - the gravedigger scene, particularly. I was dismayed when, after the intermission, the stage was littered with overturned furniture and the floor covered with detritus. "Theatre of mess," I call it, when directors don't know what to do next except throw stuff around. The junk and litter were a complete distraction; we know the kingdom is going downhill, you don't need to fling it in our faces. But it worked when Ophelia ran barefoot over a pile of rubble to die, and in the gravedigger scene, surrounded on all sides by what looked like dirt.

But mostly - what a play. What words. The beautiful rich glorious marvellous poetry of the words, more than 400 years old, that stir us still.

Throughout, Cumberbatch was a magnificent Hamlet, vulnerable, angry and tender, muscular and visceral, so terribly conflicted, alone and hard on himself. Hamlet, I wanted to say, stop beating yourself up already, cut yourself some slack! The actor threw his entire being into the role even when he was directed to do stuff that didn't work, and there was a lot of concept stuff that didn't work - like making him wear a tin soldier costume and fire toy guns, and then appear in a David Bowie t-shirt. What?

I was immensely entertained but unmoved until "The readiness is all" - delivered so simply - an intelligent man confronting his imminent death with clarity, in unforgettable prose - that tears came. William Shakespeare, your empathetic genius is unparalleled.

It's a flawed production but worthwhile. Highly recommended. Even if you're not a Cumberbitch.


  1. I saw it this afternoon in Mississauga. Benedict was wonderful. That makes two Hamlets for me this year as I took my nephew to see Hamlet at Stratford.

  2. Nadia, wow, that's a lot of Hamlets in a few short months. But the words never get tired, do they?