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Thursday, November 19

Haiku Revieu | Hamlet (Barbican)

Thursday, November 19

Benedict Cumber-
Batch makes a striking Hamlet
Not a happy play

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, returns home to find his father murdered and his mother remarrying the murderer, his uncle. Meanwhile, war is brewing.

WARNING: Possible spoilers ahead.

All English majors at my university—UMass Amherst, in case you're curious—are required to take a Shakespeare course. Prior to that course, I'd read some of Shakespeare's plays and other works, but it wasn't until college that I really fell in love with the Bard. (Thanks in no small part to my chain-smoking professor's rapid-fire but extraordinarily informative presentation.) I've seen many adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, too, but there's something to be said about seeing "the real thing" on stage. Sometimes, though, it's hard to catch the more prominent productions, particularly if you're not in England. But thanks to National Theater Live (NTL), even us plebs who live in the middle of the U.S. can have a chance to see these productions, on the big screen.

NTL broadcasts British theatre productions to movie theaters across the world, and it's through one of these broadcasts (albeit an encore, so it wasn't live) that I had the chance to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at The Barbican. (I've also seen Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus thanks to this program.)

Although we didn't study Hamlet in that course, I'm not unfamiliar with the plot—the dark, emotion-filled, vengeance-riddled plot. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's most famous, and most quote-worthy, plays, but it's not an easy one. It's filled with family drama and mental illness and a looming war. No spoilers, but lets just say that many of the characters don't make it out of this one alive.

Benedict was a superb Hamlet, and the supporting cast were pretty great, too. It did take me a minute to warm up to Ciarán Hinds' Cladius—for the first few scenes, he was super dramatic and really wooden, but he eventually relaxed into the role. Sian Brooke was a little screechy as Ophelia, but it worked?

What really stole the show for me, however, was the staging. Such gorgeous set pieces, and a really ingenious use of light and dark to make it feel like many different sets, even they never really changed the main setup. The costumes were also fantastic, and, although I think we were supposed to understand that this version of the play was set in the 70s, gave an out-of-time feel to the production. (I really want Hamlet's totally punk-rock coat, which, sadly, I couldn't find a better picture of.)

I'm not sure if this will be airing again in the future, but I definitely recommend seeing this—and other NTL shows—if you're a Shakespeare fan.

Check it out:

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