Hamlet: Cumberbatch Asks The Quintessential Question

Academy award-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (Black Mass, BBC’s Sherlock) dons the lead role in William Shakespeare’s tragedy directed by Lyndsey Turner (Chimerica) and produced by Sonia Friedman Productions. As Denmark prepares for war, the royal family tears itself apart unaided from the inside out. Motivated to get revenge for his father’s death against King Claudius (Ciarán Hinds), Prince Hamlet (Benedict Cumberbatch) is uneasy about his task ahead. He is in a great anguish because the odds against getting his desire for revenge threatens his purity of self. It is prohibiting his ability to be in balance with his sanity and morality.

The announcement that the legend Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing Hamlet at The Barbican in London stopped people in their tracks. The announcement broke the internet and it was sold out on the same day as tickets went up online, within hours. Keyboard warriors did what they did best. This is one of the most profound moments of the century triggering an epic media frenzy. To buy or not to buy. That is the question. Lyndsey reinvented Hamlet with a post-modern twist. For the most part, it was in the Elizabethan dialect but amongst long strands of archaic dialogue there were phrases of modernity. Hoodies, rucksacks and their like were also utilized on stage. It was quite strange to me. It wasn’t solely archaic but it wasn’t completely 21st century. Sometimes, you’d hear “I am” amongst thees, thys and thous.

Ciáran Hinds as the evil King Claudius

The play Hamlet, had a production value that I would go as far to say rivals many films and TV shows. The production and sets are enough to take one’s breath away. It was like watching a high quality British indie movie. The sets were out of this world, much akin to Kurzel’s Macbeth. The amount of work that has gone into the play is astounding. The lighting and sound were also on point. The play begins with Cumberbatch sitting on the floor in the dark surrounded by cases. It’s dark and there’s a faint light on him and he’s dressed in dark clothing as well, to represent his depression after his father died. Hamlet is a broken man, constantly in conflict with his own mind, to the point that he is contemplating his own existence thus we have “to be or not to be?” To exist or not to exist? Should I kill myself or should I not? It’s a constant struggle between man and madness.

People have talked of nothing apart from Cumberbatch for the past two years, because he just seems to be in everything. From Black Mass to Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (Premiering Jan 1) to Jungle Book Origins (voicing Sheer Khan) to The Hobbit Trilogy (Smaug/Sauron). He was even in the trailer for Zoolander 2 and now is now been recruited by Marvel to play the Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Vincent Strange which has just begun filming. Did I forget Alan Turing in The Imitation Game? He’s the Prince Of Geekdom having done Middle Earth, Star Trek, Sherlock and now entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Welcome to the Brotherhood son!

Strange Tales from the set

Strange Tales from the set

Cumberbatch’s performances are sensation after sensation. He’s a glorious actor and reminds me too much of the actors of Hollywood’s golden age, much alike Cate Blanchett in Carol. He’s one of the most versatile actors in the business today. He went from playing Hamlet to playing Billy Bulger in Black Mass along side Johnny Depp, who is another very versatile actor. But Benedict’s performance as Hamlet was the stuff of legend. Tales will be told, songs will be sung of his prowess as the Last Son Of Denmark. He delivered every line flawlessly and there were times where he let a bit of Sherlock come out as well. Integrating completely different characters to create a new persona of a character who has been depicted time and time again.

His performance was emotional and sad yet with moments of happiness and cheer. His character has been caused great pain by those closest to him, including his mother but most obviously his step father who was also his uncle.They married too quickly without forethought before Hamlet’s father had drawn his last breath. Cumberatch is made for the stage. His depiction was poetic with an intense aura that you would love to feel over and over again. He’s like that movie you watch all the time without ever getting bored. Everyone of his performances, regardless of the character draws me in and leaves me in a dysfunctional state which is more or less a blubbering mess, Hamlet more so. He brings so much to every role, even if that role isn’t supposed to evoke emotion from the audience, but he always does. You leave his films or plays feeling emotionally violated, even if his role is minor.

Hate, Depressed, Vengeful and Happiness are only a few of the emotions portrayed by Cumberbatch

Hate, Depressed, Vengeful and Happiness are only a few of the emotions portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch

Anyone who knows the play, knows that Claudius kills his brother to take the throne for himself. Ciarán Hinds (Game Of Thrones) as Claudius is pure evil. He has no redeemable qualities. He is a kinslayer yet because Hinds has added his own flavour to the role, you can’t help but love to hate him. Claudius is a master manipulator with a dismissive venom and he is a new breed of psychopath, willing to do whatever it takes for ultimate power, even if that means him being the only person alive leaving a pile of dead bodies in his wake. Claudius is a very different character to that of Mance Rayder, and I prefer Hinds in the ultimate villain role rather than the anti-hero-esque persona as he is in HBO’s Game Of Thrones. Other main characters include Horatio (Leo Bill), Laertes (Kobna Holbrook-Smith) and Ophelia (Siân Brooke) whose performances were also very good, yet I found their character’s irritating and annoying at times because of how they misunderstand situations. I guess that’s all in the nature of tragedy. The misconception of situations normally leads to someone being killed.

In conclusion, I believe that this is the best performance of Cumberbatch’s ‘I hope to be long’ career. He plays the Prince Of Denmark with vigor and charisma yet it is poetry in motion. The adaptation of the original source material does Shakespeare justice despite the main “To Be Or Not To Be” speech being in the second act. I’d like Cumberbatch to do more stage work when, and if his film and TV career slows down because I truly believe he is better on stage than on-screen. After all, he began his career in the theatre so I think he should go back to his origins.

Cumberbatch taking Hollywood by storm may be madness, yet there is a method to it