Thursday, 27 August 2015

Review: Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre starring Benedict Cumberbatch

Barbican Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 26th August 2015

It's the show everyone's talking about, but does Lyndsey Turner’s production of Hamlet live up to the hype? Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet is certainly triumphant; he takes to the stage with great intensity, giving a compellingly focused performance.

Cumberbatch is an example of how stunt casting should be done. He has the talent and ability to pull off the mammoth task of taking on such an epic role whilst also attracting new people to the theatre.

He's got everyone talking, and the pre-show buzz at the Barbican was unlike anything I have previously witnessed when sitting down to watch a Shakespeare. I had nothing but admiration for the ushers who worked incredibly hard to ensure everyone behaved themselves and no phones were used (West End theatres take note!!). 

I've been to the Barbican several times, but have never fully appreciated just how big the stage is until the state dining room set was revealed (the chandelier is out of this world) at the start of the piece. Es Devlin's design sweeps across the stage, it really is quite stunning. The production certainly feels grand and lavish, but I wouldn't want to sit too far back or high up as it would feel as if some of the action was happening a million miles away. If a suitable gap is found in Cumberbatch's schedule and the show were to transfer to the West End or Broadway a large theatre would be essential.

Turner’s production features glimmers of style; Jane Cox's lighting design is suitably atmospheric, complementing Jon Hopkins' music. There are some strong performances from the supporting cast, the energy in the ensemble scenes works well and overall the piece flows smoothly.

My main complaint is that some of the grit and drama gets lost at the Barbican. Some scenes are grippingly focused, but others feel distant and lack an extra layer of substance. There is no doubt that Hamlet is one of this year's top theatrical events, the concentration from the audience during Cumberbatch's all-important "To be, or not to be" speech is glorious.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Hamlet runs at the Barbican Theatre until 31st October 2015, please visit for further information. The production will be broadcast to cinemas around the world on 15th October 2015. Details of all live and encore screenings can be found at

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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