Brendan Whitt


Blought #22: National Live Theater Presents 'Hamlet" at The Barbican

The opening Scene of Lyndsey Turner's 'Hamlet'
Theater is a beautiful thing. The stage design, production value, costumes and actors’ performances all coming together to tell a story live and in your face is a true marvel. Especially when it’s the all time great playwright William Shakespeare. I read some Shakespeare in high school including Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet. It wasn’t until last summer when I was able to watch a live performance of Shakespeare. The 13th Summer Season of the Ohio Shakespeare Festival was performing Henry IV part one.

The production was directed by the festival’s artistic director Terry Burgler and starred David McNees as King Henry IV and Andrew Cruse as Henry, Prince of Wales. The production was staged at the Stan Hywet Hall & Graden in Akron, Ohio. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed my first Shakespeare experience. After I left I wondered when I would get to see my next live Shakespeare experience.

Last week I was invited to director Lyndsey Turner’s rendition of Hamlet. Hamlet is the story of Prince Hamlet who is grieving over the death of his father, King Hamlet of Denmark. When Hamlet sees his father’s ghost, the ghost tells Hamlet that his own brother and Hamlet's uncle Claudius, killed him so that he could take the thrown and his wife as his own.

The production featured Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character Hamlet. Cirian Hinds probably best known today as Mance Rayder in HBO’s Game of Thrones portrayed Claudius, Hamlet’s Uncle who murdered King Hamlet to take the thrown and to marry Hamlet’s mother Gertrude who was portrayed by seasoned actress Anastasia Hille. Hamlet’s close friend Horatio was played by English actor Leo Bill while the roles of Ophelia and Polonius were filled by Sian Brooke and Jim Norton respectively.
Cirian Hinds as Claudius

Rachel Stewart of The Telegraph called it “the most in demand theater production of all time” via the ticket website Viagogo citing that the show registered 214% more searches for tickets than that of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s On The Run world tour. Tickets for the 12-week run starting back in August of this year sold out in only seven hours a full calendar year before the play even premiered.

The Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights was packed when I first entered the theater. The play was a production of National Live Theater and was presented by the Barbican Centere in London. Cumberbatch was nothing short of extraordinary and had me overly excited to see him play Dr. Strange in the upcoming Marvel film of the same name. The set design was beautiful with a backdrop of a late 19th century maybe early 20th century style royal palace hall.

In the later scenes dead leaves and mounds of fake debris were blown around to show the depth of grief both Prince Hamlet and Ophelia felt as the story progressed. The grave digger scene used the debris the best while giving the illusion of actually being in a graveyard.

One of the many confusing costumes
The only negative I took away from the production were the costumes. For the most part everyone wore clothing from the Victorian or Edwardian period of England.

Cumberbatch’s uniforms were a bit more modern. The scene where Rosecrantz and Guildenstern help Hamlet organize a short play to out Claudius had Hamlet in a royal overcoat with the word “King” painted on the back. I took a quick glance at his shoes and he had on busted up sneakers. Sorry Katrina Lindsay (the productions costume designer) I wasn’t feeling that. Horatio’s costume was really confusing. It looked like actor Leo Bill showed up late and went on stage with what he wore to the theater, a plaid button up shirt and jeans.

All in all the performance was fair. Cumberbatch’s performance stole the show, so much in fact that no one else’s performance really stood out. Cedar Lee’s sound system gave you the feeling of actually being in the theater while the camera work was just as good. If you love theater or are just a casual fan then I suggest you go catch a National Live Theater production. Cedar Lee will be showing a presentation of Coriolanus November 19th at 7 pm and again on November 22nd at 11 am.

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