In Depth

Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet: a 'career-changing' performance

Critics break press tradition to review Cumberbatch's preview night – some praising, others damning

As audiences got their first glimpse of Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet on his preview night at the Barbican, critics broke with convention to publish early reviews – and not all of them were positive.

The production is directed by Lyndsey Turner (Machinal) and also features Ciaran Hinds, but this Hamlet has been all about 39-year-old Cumberbatch, star of Sherlock and The Imitation Game. Ticket sales have been among the briskest ever recorded for a play, and The Guardian says that avid Cumberbatch fans, known as "Cumberbitches", have been queuing for hours outside the Barbican for a limited release of day tickets.

The waiting, it seems, has been too much for some critics, who flouted convention by publishing reviews of the first preview, rather than the official opening night, which is still several weeks away.

The majority give Cumberbatch and the production rave reviews. The Daily Mail's Jan Moir awards it five stars, describing Cumberbatch's "Hamlet in a hoodie" as "electrifying". She says the performance veers "from moments of genuinely hilarious comedy to plunge down to the very depths of throat scalding tragedy".

Moir also praises the production, which includes "hipsters, some crazy dancing, glitter cannons shooting black confetti across the stage" and "the spectacle of an actor delivering a career-changing performance".

In the Daily Telegraph, Serena Davis writes that director Turner and designer Es Devlin have "created a lavish, epic Hamlet for the Barbican's vast stage". Davis adds that Cumberbatch "commands and surprises", and is well supported by a cast that includes the "always moving and intelligent Ciaran Hinds as Hamlet's murdering uncle Claudius".

But in The Times, Kate Maltby was less impressed. "Alas, poor Benedict. It's hard to flatten Hamlet," she writes, but that is what this production has done. "Cumberbatch has all the energy Hamlet requires, sweating around the Barbican stage like an oleaginous electric eel, but there's little subtlety in this performance."

The production is aimed squarely at the Cumber-fans, she suggests, a "Hamlet for kids raised on Moulin Rouge". She also condemns the "indefensible" decision to open with Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy, which is not repeated, in sequence, at the right emotional moment. It is, she says, "a pure theatrical self-indulgence".

Her opinions, however, were not shared by the Cumberfans, who flooded Twitter's #HamletBarbican hashtag with praise for their sweet prince.

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