Hamlet, The Barbican, London. August 2015.
I have to add the disclaimer to this review stating that the production was still in preview when we saw this performance, although at the time of booking we weren't aware of this.
As well as being the most eagerly awaited theatrical event of the year this Hamlet has also proved the most controversial. A quick Google search will bring up pages of controversy surrounding the production and with that much hype it was always going to be be hard to live up to.
When Rebecca and I saw this the production had moved the 'To Be...' speech back into a more traditional location and I was a little sad at that - if you are going to be daring with a play then be really daring! Instead the play opened with Hamlet (Cumberbatch) sat on the stage listening to Nature Boy looking through his childhood possessions. The speeches usually given to by the guards on duty then were spoken by Hamlet. It didn't feel odd or out of place at all and I can see that with this melancholy start how the To be... lines would have worked.
Following this the stage opens right out into an opulent stately home and as the Barbican's stage is so big I did really feel like I was looking at a National Trust property. The play then continued in a servicable fashion, the text had been reworked so that narratives were easy to follow but there were no standout brilliant parts for me. In fact I started getting incredibly frustrated by the direction which had the lighting change and the rest of the cast move in slow motion each time Hamlet gives a soliloquy. I can see how the criticisms of a dumbed-down production have arisen.
Many of the reviews that have been published since press night praise Cumberbatch but are less kind to the play as a whole and I think that I agree with that. He was a good Hamlet, he managed to make a character I have never liked tolerable, The set was the other star! We had seats in the gallery for this performance and only once did we notice an actor playing to the whole audience - something that is very noticeable after frequenting the Globe and seeing how they encompass everyone. Our seats were also not listed as restricted view and they certainly were! To add insult to injury the programme - no more than a collection of images freely available on line - costs £8.50, the same as a glass of champagne from the bar.
This feels like a very grumpy review and I am glad that I will see the play again in September, from better seats, as I can then make an informed decision about what I really feel about the production.