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Critics Less Than Kind to Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘Hamlet’ in London

Critics Less Than Kind to Benedict Cumberbatch's 'Hamlet' in London

Finally director Lyndsey Turner’s experimental dressing-up of “Hamlet” at London’s Barbican Theatre has arrived, after previews several weeks ago were plagued by photo-snapping Cumberbitches, and at least two London newspapers breaking review embargo.

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Anastasia Hille, Sian Brooke, Leo Bill, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Jim Norton, and running through October 31, the production, according to NYT, is but “avant-garde window dressing” with an intense but uneven performance from Cumberbatch, and too many literal visual interpretations of the Shakespeare text. The Guardian comes down especially hard on the play. But the stateside trades, however, are more kind.

Herewith a smattering of reviews:

The New York Times
Why, for instance, after Hamlet announces he is going to put on “an antic disposition” (that is, feign madness), does he rummage through a trunk with his ditsy girlfriend, Ophelia (Sian Brooke), in search of a fitting disguise? This would seem to imply that Ophelia is in on the deception, but nothing that follows justifies that theory. And why is Ophelia always photographing objects in close-up with a boxy camera? Is this meant to be a literal interpretation of her stunned lines about having to “see what I have seen”?

Oh, I don’t know. But when a director throws out such tantalizing gimmicks, she had better be prepared to follow through on them. Here they just seem like avant-garde window dressing.

Thought you knew “Hamlet”? Think again. Benedict Cumberbatch’s prince might have triggered a media frenzy, but make no mistake, this is director Lyndsey Turner’s production — and it’s a radical reinvention with real political intent, even if it’s too complex to fully cohere. Its star defers to his director’s vision, probably to his own personal detriment: his Hamlet is many things at once, more a collection of characteristics than a credible character, but he finds his purpose as he goes on — as does the production. This is a Hamlet for a world on the edge: a warning from history, and a plea for new ideas from a new generation.

The Guardian
What makes the evening so frustrating is that Cumberbatch has many of the qualities one looks for in a Hamlet. He has a lean, pensive countenance, a resonant voice, a gift for introspection. He is especially good in the soliloquies. “To be or not to be”, about which there has been so much kerfuffle, mercifully no longer opens the show: I still think it works better if placed after, rather than before, the arrival of the players, but Cumberbatch delivers it with a rapt intensity. He is also excellent in “What a piece of work is a man” and has the right air of self-doubt: in the midst of his advice to the First Player on how to act, he suddenly says “but let your own discretion be your tutor”, as if aware of his presumption in lecturing an old pro.

The Hollywood Reporter
“The play’s the thing,” goes the line. But amid all the hype and hysteria surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at London’s Barbican Theatre — over broken review embargoes, forbidden cellphone recordings and stage-door-shy stars — the play seemed in danger of being forgotten altogether. As the dust blasted from the wings at the end of the first half starts to settle, it’s finally time to examine the production directed by Lyndsey Turner and its star performance, and deem them both … quite good. Neither is epoch-defining, but this modern-dress, light-on-gimmicks interpretation packs a strong supporting ensemble, while Cumberbatch’s graceful, witty but somewhat self-effacing turn is certainly no disgrace.

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