Entertainment, Manchester, Review

Hamlet Review – To Be Or Not To Be

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By Vick Jones.

Little did I think I’d ever find myself alone at the cinema. Nor did I ever think I’d watch Shakespeare on a huge screen. Maybe Daniel Craig in Spectre? Or the latest installment of the Hunger Games saga? But Hamlet was something I’d never have considered before I began my English degree course. Yet there I was, and to be honest I was quite excited to see the irrepressible Benedict Cumberbatch bring the historical to present day. It did help that the impeccably dressed and quirky actor, whom we know best from TV’s Sherlock, was heading the cast. He was supported by a number of impressive actors, whose performances were as beguiling as they were passionate.

Performed Live by the National Theatre from the Barbican in London and screened in cinemas across the UK, Hamlet has received numerous reviews from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent. I was interested to see how I’d review it myself.

Shakespeare Quartos Project

Shakespeare Quartos Project

An incredible display of talent swallowed up my afternoon. At three and a half hours in length and requiring a twenty minute interval, it needed to be as enthralling as it was. Cumberbatch was magnificent, carrying off the tragedy of Hamlet with devout commitment to the bleak, grief stricken prose of a play written over four hundred years ago. And although the stage fell into darkness at each heart rending speech made, he was still able to bring the audience to laughter during Shakespeare’s renowned comical sketches, added in to provide a brief respite from the characters woes and demise.

Praise, however, must be given to Ophelia’s actress Sian Brooke who, in the beginning of the second act, brought tears to my eyes. Her ability to represent a daughter’s pain and escalating madness at the death of her father Polonius was spellbinding.

The whole show was atmospheric: the music and lighting added to the result. I was more than impressed to see Cumberbatch himself helping to move stage props between scenes. There was a genuine team effort and it worked brilliantly.

It was a delight to see a modern twist on a play set in the 1600’s: Horatio’s (Specsavers?) glasses, the colourful retro telephones, Ophelia’s (Sony?) camera, classic record players and a display of Adidas trainers and Converse pumps! It is a work of art that a play fueled by Elizabethan language can have the ability to resonate within our modern society. The themes of Hamlet are relatable as they are still present today. They are universal: death, betrayal, grief, friendship, power, corruption. You name it, this play had it. This complex Shakespearean tragedy was brought into context for the audience.
Hamlet was indeed a play that was moving and emotional. The cinematic audience joined me in being unable to draw breath at each of Cumberbatch’s poignant speeches, where tears filled his eyes as he spoke upon a solitary stage. He was captivating, he was remarkable.

Having witnessed and been drawn in by such powerful performances, I referred to the information sheet listing future showings. I may well be back to see one or more of the following viewings (find out more on ntlive.com ):

  • Of Mice and Men – 19th November (featuring James Franco)
  • A Winter’s Tale – 30th November (featuring Judi Dench)
  • Jane Eyre – 8th December
  • Dangerous Liaisons – 28th January
  • As You Like It – 25th February

Hamlet was comical, passionate, moving and emotional – not only did I learn a lot more about a play I am due to study and research, but I also found a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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