Book Reviews / The Latest

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet: there is something rotten in Denmark, but it isn’t his acting.


Hamlet is a play that you know even if you have never seen it or read it. So much of the play is dispersed throughout modern English speaking culture that it is not hard to find yourself quoting the play, many times unbeknownst to you. Hamlet is the kind of role that most stage performers aspire to. It is a character that is universal and transcends, I believe, the usual barriers of gender, age, and time. The loss, the grief, the madness in that grief are all real things that we as humans will experience inevitably. That is what makes Hamlet so special.

I did not go to England to see the play, but rather went to Lucerne in Switzerland where they live-streamed the play at the Verkehrshaus. The cinema is too small for the screen though, which made a tall person like me have an aching neck by the end of the night. Although, that was the only real complaint I have about the show. Well, that and Ophelia… but I’ll get back to that later.

I am a bit skeptical when I hear that big celebrity actors are going to be in plays. I always worry if they can transfer on-screen acting to on-stage acting. Sometimes, it really doesn’t work. I feel very relieved to say that Benedict Cumberbatch was able to pull that off. You really were able to experience the whole array of emotions with Cumberbatch as Hamlet. Though it was madness, it hath method and purpose. Cumberbatch, in an interview before the play said that “You need to find a reason to say the words.” The lines, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” are some of the most famous lines known to the English speaking world. And yet, standing on the table in a red soldiers coat, Cumberbatch found the need to say those words and they sounded as fresh as the autumn rain outside.

The only character I took issue with was Ophelia, played by Sian Brooke. Ophelia felt stilted and many of her movements felt mechanical forced and as if they were somehow syncopated with the true essence of the character. I must admit that it got better throughout the play, but I couldn’t help but feel that she was vacant. That she had not found the need to say the words. Ophelia, as a character is hard to play. In classic Shakespeare style she is a hysterical woman, burned by love, and eventually dies. It is hard to get a full range from such a character, I believe. But yet, when compared with Hamlet’s mother, Anastasia Hille, there was a full range of emotion and a fluidity on stage.

The staging was very well done. I love-love-love-loved the lighting. It turned the stage from a stately palace to an eerie cold grave. Before intermission the stage was flooded with leaves that marked the chaos and loss to come.

If there are still tickets available and you are umming and ahhing about whether to go, let me save you the decision making process: find the need to go.

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