In Depth

Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet 'justifies the hype' despite misfiring show

Cumberbatch is a 'five-star Hamlet' in hit-and-miss production, but is he a victim of his Sherlock fame?

Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre has won positive reviews following the play's official opening in London last night, but the production as a whole has fared less well, and some critics wonder whether the actor's fame isn't part of the problem.

The modern-dress Hamlet, directed by Lyndsey Turner and described as the fastest-selling play in British history, made the news earlier this month when some newspaper critics broke with tradition to publish reviews of the first preview performance. Now the official reviews are out, and they're no less mixed.

Cumberbatch, whose Prince of Denmark slouches in a hoodie, listening to gramophone records as he plots his revenge, is Cumberbatch "a blazing, five-star Hamlet trapped in a middling, three-star show", says Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph.

The man himself "justifies the hysteria" and stands equal to the best modern Hamlets", but the production is "full of hit-and-miss ideas" that dissipate its energy.

For Michael Billington in The Guardian, it's "an intellectual ragbag of a production" full of "half-baked ideas". What makes it  "frustrating" is that Cumberbatch has the makings of a good Hamlet. He is pensive and resonant, but he is given "lots of silly things to do".

In the New York Times, Ben Brantley seems more impressed by the "scenic spectacle and conceptual tweaks and quirks", saying "this Hamlet is never boring", but nor is it ever moving.

Cumberbatch is "superb", says Brantley, and there is "not a soliloquy that doesn't shed fresh insight into how Hamlet thinks", but the rest of the cast barely registers as more than moving scenery. In this version, "Hamlet has never seemed so alone".

Perhaps, suggests The Independent's Paul Taylor, the problem might be Cumberbatch's fame. He may have been better tackling Hamlet "before the global success of Sherlock rocketed him into the celebrity stratosphere".

"The actor commands the stage with a whirling energy but we rarely feel soul-to-soul with this Hamlet," he says. The "insanely pressurised environment" may be to blame for Cumberbatch's failure to lay himself bare, which makes the show as a whole feel "curiously uninvolving".  

Hamlet is on at the Barbican until October, and is broadcast live to cinemas on 15 October.

Recommended

The most expensive divorces in the world
Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall
Why we’re talking about . . .

The most expensive divorces in the world

That Is Not Who I Am: a play that divided opinion from the outset
Photo from That Is Not Who I Am play
In Review

That Is Not Who I Am: a play that divided opinion from the outset

What has Serena Williams been doing?
Serena Williams
Profile

What has Serena Williams been doing?

Mick Lynch: the veteran trade unionist leading rail walkouts
Mick Lynch
Profile

Mick Lynch: the veteran trade unionist leading rail walkouts

Popular articles

The Mediterranean cities preparing for a tsunami
A tsunami in 2011 in Japan
Fact file

The Mediterranean cities preparing for a tsunami

Are we heading for World War Three?
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine
In Depth

Are we heading for World War Three?

When is the next UK general election?
A sign directs voters to a polling station
In Depth

When is the next UK general election?

The Week Footer Banner