Emma: Ok, I'll be honest with you guys. I've never seen Hamlet. Ever. I haven't even read it. I know what happens, I know that Horatio ends up standing there surrounded by bodies by the end of act II, but I'd never actually seen it played out.
I've been told I've been spoiled for Hamlet.
The first moment I'll be honest I wasn't sold. It took me Hamlet coming in in full soldier regalia talking to the king and suddenly I forgot where I was or what I was doing or how many gummy bears I had stuffed into my mouth (21).
So let's start with just the set. Oh my God you guys this set was beautiful. It was like an old house that using lighting became an office and then a theater stage and it was beautiful. Then during the second part of the play after a very evil and dramatic explosion after the King's confession then devious plot is laid, we move to act II where the stage is covered in mud and water.
It was amazing. It was a war ground, graveyard, dueling area, and still this old house all at the same time. Beautiful set work. My favorite part of it was when they were chasing down Hamlet after he kills Ophelia's father, a certain lighting effect reveals the walls are covered in cracks and a large pane of broken glass outlined in the very back showing the downfall of the entire cast is imminent.
Now I'll be honest, I'm a little tired of seeing Cumberbatch on everything. I couldn't even get through his SNL episode. He blew me out of the fucking water. He was amazing, he played Hamlet less as this once a sociopath always a sociopath and more of this sad man descending into madness.
Gertrude was also played beautifully. I didn't appreciate her until after Hamlet's departure for England. No longer was she this tottery woman standing in heels and nodding to what her husband said. We first see her character break a little bit through when she and Hamlet are fighting in her closet and then they embrace. You truly see this mother trying desperately to cling to her child who's on the brink of insanity. He just killed a man and she holds him tightly like she's trying to hold onto the child inside of him. Then after Hamlet goes, we see her run down the stairs dressed in only a slip with her hair falling out of it's perfect french twist. We see her out of her armor of these poised and perfect clothing and stripped quite literally down to rawness. A thing to note is she wasn't wearing shoes at the start of this scene. She puts them on to speak to Ophelia, who at this point has gone mad. She puts on shoes to speak with her and Ophelia comes in barefoot. It's almost as if the shoes show her composure, because after Ophelia's death, she's barefoot once again.
Now let's talk about Ophelia. This Ophelia was played amazingly. From the first scene you see this edge to her where you realize that she's coming to terms with the fact she truly has no control over her life. She has a camera at first, it's on her for a majority of the first act until Hamlet leaves her. During that scene is the first time she is seen without it. Her sense of identity is gone, she's but a pawn in her father's game. Then after her father's death is when the actress truly brought this character's madness out. She was crazy in the opposite way that Hamlet was, he was running on vengeance, she was running on sorrow. What got me was this scene with her and Gertrude. She's dragged this chest downstairs and sings a sorrowful song about her father and keeps pulling anxiously at her clothes. She then heads towards this light, and sort of falls into it. While she's done this Gertrude opens the chest and finds it to be full of her photographs and her camera. It's her. In a box, everything that made up Ophelia. Shortly after she falls into the light we hear of her death. I've heard in some versions of Hamlet it's questioned whether she was murdered or killed herself. In this one Gertrude when revealing her death says something along the lines of 'as she drowned, when she'd come up she'd be singing classic tunes she knew.' She was at peace with her death. She let herself go.
Now my fav. Horatio. He was played by a gentlemen covered in tattoos. He wore a flannel shirt, had glasses and a backpack and I knew him. I knew that guy with too many tattoos and always wore his backpack. He was familiar and friendly. You immediately understood how this character could be someones confidant and best friend. The way the play unfolds it feels like the whole story could have potentially been a retelling of what actually happened through Horatio's eyes. I'd love to see that Horatio specifically have his own show. His own story mainly from his point of view.
Now Ophelia had a camera and Horatio a backpack and at one point Hamlet wore a David Bowie t-shirt. The costumes added an entire side to this play that made it even deeper. Often the mother and king were dressed in clothes that would have been appropriate for the 1940s. Hamlet was somewhere between now and the 80's. An interesting thing that our friend Dylan pointed out was Ophelia's wardrobe. She started off in this restricting white dress with her camera, then as she lost control her clothes became looser and less confining, an opposite as too what was happening around her life. Once again she's in constricting clothes when she is at her father's funeral. The wardrobe choices for this play were phenomenal and one of my favorite parts.
Overall I loved this. I didn't expect to love a play where the end of it is one man standing surrounded by his friend's and friend's families' bodies. But I did, I loved it and love how this particular version was done. It's made me want to seek out other productions of it and compare it to the original works...which is on my bookshelf so I will read it. Shut up.
Here are some facts about me.
I was an English lit major. I love classic literature. I have a weak spot for a good percussion section in any music. I love good, heavy, raw emotions and the occasional cliché. And I love Benedict Cumberbatch. Phenomenal actor, great arms.
And with that said, I just died. I just died and it was all that fantastic shit at once that killed me.
Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet was nothing short of phenomenal. Hamlet is one of my favorite works of literature. It means very much to me on a personal level, is brilliant at an intellectual level, and as a play is just damn. fun to watch. I've done my research on this play, read it, watched it, and written my fair share of college essays on it, but for everyone's sanity, I'll try and keep it brief.
Though let the record show, that's really hard for me to do about Hamlet and you should all be super proud of me.
Firstly, visuals. This rendition did not disappoint in any way. The visuals, stage setup, effects and lighting were beyond perfect. Hamlet is by no means a happy story, but it is dotted with color and comedy; the stage was light and expressive when it needed to be, and dark and overbearing when it needed to be. More importantly, it was eerie, and then it was manic, just at the right times. There were bright, unnerving effects showing broken glass and spiderwebs, flashing lights, and at times, the sensation of everything in the background slowing as if on an old film reel, while Hamlet soliloquized in the foreground. The stage was utilized well, and changed often, with the speed of a crew that ran like a well oiled machine. The short winded way to put it is to say that it kept you constantly entranced. The long winded way, no one here has time for, but oh god, I have a lot of feelings.
I have seen a lot of different Hamlets that make a habit of combining eras to create something that almost exists in its own time; this little pocket where Gertrude is wearing a 1940's style dress, everyone still speaks in old Shakespearean English, but Horatio is a hipster backpacker and Hamlet is wearing a David Bowie t-shirt. It gives the impression that Hamlet is timeless; permanent. This Hamlet did just that, and did it splendidly. There were many conflicting time periods represented, but each of them worked together harmoniously.
And the acting.
Benedict Cumberbatch is a hugely talented individual.
I knew this going in, but after coming out I have a new respect for him. His portrayal of Hamlet was dark, mad, had a lot of yelling, but was offset by a lovely amount of comedy, unlike most other adaptations I've seen. There's little room for jokes later in the play, so it's important to optimize the opportunity when you can in act I. Cumberbatch acted it with such a physical kind of comedy that, even when lines didn't allow, the joke carried forward, easily and unrushed. When the jokes are over and he was grieving, he was truly grieving, in anguish he was truly troubled, and angry he was truly fucking enraged. When Cumberbatch acts, he does not. Half. Ass. Anything.
As a last note, the percussion. As previously stated, I fucking love percussion. A well implemented drum can tie together almost anything. The percussion was used to create this eerie atmosphere, gloomy and dark, but urgent. It was used largely during changes to the scene go help the transition, but also in moments of emotion. It was very well implemented, and really added to the feeling of the entire play.
Hamlet it a classic. I could go on and on about it, but I'm not here to retell the story to you as a fangirl (which, to be clear, I totally am one), but give you a rating on it as an analyst. And my analysis is that the piece if art I just watched is nearly perfect. It was goddamn explosive. Nothing I can say will do it any amount of justice. Watch it yourself.
And also Benedict Cumberbatch's arms look really great in it.
And finally our friend Dylan who has spent more time on a stage then either of us has graciously given us his review!
It strikes me that the secret to stage acting in comparison to screen acting is that one must be the character at all points in the show. In a movie, the actor is told at what point in their life story they need to be, and they are there. In TV shows an actor may be told their back story half way into the show, with a dozen episodes where this piece was missing from their mind. But in this production of Hamlet, more than any play I have seen, you could find all stages of the actor’s lives in their first five minutes on stage.
As the show opens, we see Hamlet, sitting on the floor with his Dad’s old crates, a photo album, and a portable record player, listening to Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy. He is a young man, and he is mourning his father. For the rest of the play, forget plots, kingdoms, politics, madness, all that matters is that he is a man who is mourning. He mourns his loss of innocence, his resolve, his love, his mother, even his country, and in every soliloquy that mourning is there, behind anger, despair, you can always see it. The same goes for Ophelia. In too many productions Ophelia is portrayed as a young woman who is completely fine, maybe upset, and then WHAM, Mad. (Honestly this more or less harkens back to the age old sexist undertones that women are just a hair shy of madness on any given day, and I love that this play is taking that away.) This Ophelia is starting to crumble from day one, as her brother and father lecture her on how she really needs to stop loving Hamlet, because he probably doesn’t mean it, and even if he does he won’t later, and even if he did, he’s a prince, he couldn’t marry you, but we love you honey, and we want what’s best for you. And in her tiny stutter, her grabbing of her sleeve, we see the signs of her distress that will be mirrored in her later madness.
All the characters are like this, all the way down to the more obsequious than usually portrayed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the soldier in the yard, delivering Shakespearean verse like east London slang, and Laertes, a little too insistent about everything.
One highly underrated character that stuck out the most to me was Horatio. The actor is a smaller man, with glasses, little hair, and tattoos all over. The character carries a backpack with him at all times, and always seems a bit more out of place in the castle. For the first time I found myself wondering things about this man. Where does he live? What is his connection to Hamlet? Why is he here? In this performance he is the only person in the court other than Hamlet who we only see in casual clothes. And in the end, he is desperate to follow Hamlet in death. More about this character is revealed in the last few minutes of the show. At Hamlet’s death, he is ready to die, and is stilled only by Hamlet’s plea; to remember him, and to share his story to the world, to make sure his friend isn’t simply one more body.
The costuming was exquisite as well, in that all the characters seemed to have more or less their own era of dress, and yet all fit in well together. The king and queen were from the ‘40s or earlier, hamlet seems to be in the ‘80s or ‘90s, and the acting troupe is from the late ‘60s early ‘70s. But as the characters, particularly Ophelia and Gertrude, sink further into the horror of this world, their personas and their costumes sink, become plainer, baggier, less put together.
But the part of this play that cannot be raised high enough is the stage itself, and the acting upon it. In the moment’s after Polonius’ death, the strobe lights flicker, and as the court searches for hamlet the actors periodically drop down to all fours, scampering like beasts to find this “madman”. As the King pronounces his son’s impending death, torrents of dirt, looking like a plague of flies, is rocketed through every door, covering the stage and turning the palace into a ruin. Ophelia, in her madness, clears an area in the dirt, brings down a trunk, and seems to hold a mock funeral for her father, though as she exits, Gertrude discovers that the trunk is filled with Ophelia’s camera and photos, that this was Ophelia’s funeral, that she dug her own grave. When Hamlet stabs Laertes, the lights created an image like shattering glass, and the cast began a subtle dance, mimicking motions of the duel itself.
These motions, as grandiose as they seem, make the piece more relatable. It puts the audience into the mind of the characters, who at the end of the day, are just people, people who feel their worlds falling apart, who lose track of where their lives are supposed to be, and who mostly just feel scared and alone. That is what Hamlet is all about. That’s why so many great people have been able to find something new in every Hamlet production. Hamlet speaks to the tremendous sadness that is in all of us, and tells us that even entire royal families can fall to its blows