I was fortunate enough to find some last minute tickets for the opening night of the anticipated performance of Hamlet at the Barbican, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The previous achievements of the well known film and television actor were at odds with the challenging role which he took on in last night’s performance: a depressed, grief-stricken prince who is driven to madness. However, he translated his talents to the stage with admirable ease and ‘Sherlock’ was soon forgotten as the audience were captivated by his new identity as ‘Hamlet’. As one of Shakespeare’s most renowned plays, ‘Hamlet’ is a role coveted by many actors, but Cumberbatch gave a modern edge to this ageless role: he played the prince in black jeans and, at one point, a hoodie. The modern identity of the Prince gave this enigmatic and complex character a more familiar edge, thus enabling the allusion of a more intimate relationship with the audience, whilst widening the theatrical opportunities of the play. Although breathtaking in his tragic performance, particularly gripping and emotive during Ophelia’s funeral, Cumberbatch was able to bring comedy to Shakespeare’s play through his portrayal of the Prince’s madness. His most obvious comic moment was the use of a toy castle while he was dressed a a toy soldier, but his continuous wordplay and wit emanated throughout and shed humour on some of the more tragic moments in the play. Benedict Cumberbatch, in his leading tragic role, was clearly the star attraction of the performance, but he was surrounded by a cast which reflected his astounding talent; I felt that Kobna Holbrook-Smith gave an impressive performance of the grief stricken Laertes, as he explored a wide spectrum of emotion through his role, from grief at his relatives’ deaths, to the pain and fear of his eventual death scene at the end of the play. Karl Johnson’s performance as the gravedigger provided much needed comic relief, and Leo Bill as Horatio performed as a loveable, relatable character, dressed in jeans and a backpack throughout the performance. I felt that the play was truly astonishing in the talent and time which had clearly gone into its performance, and was an exciting and modern version of one of the best known theatrical works. The cast and crew were fully deserving of the audience’s astonished standing ovation at the end of the play.


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