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Mixed bag for Cumberbatch's heavily-hyped Hamlet

Lyndsey Turner's radical production didn't sit well with all the critics, though its star was more roundly praised


Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage


"Benedict Cumberbatch delivers the great soliloquies superbly, urgently, intelligently and full of concentration, right to the top of the Barbican."

"Es Devlin's glorious design... fills the Barbican stage with staircases, family portraits, tangled skeins of artificial flowers, and a toy theatre proscenium, brilliantly used for the play scene"

"But there are things in this version of the play that will never do. There's far too much inaudibility. The wider reaches of the story, the plot, involving Claudius and the court, are insufficiently clear. Norton's Polonius is too nebulous, and reading his 'few precepts' from a notebook doesn't look good; he'd know them, and he's not funny."

Paul Taylor, The Independent


"I think that it's a rather mixed affair - stunningly designed by Es Devlin, with a fair bit of text and story-line shifted around by Turner, to sometimes eloquent, sometimes irritating effect."

"The actor [Benedict Cumberbatch] commands the stage with a whirling energy but we rarely feel soul-to-soul with this Hamlet, party because he's often made to deliver the soliloquies against distracting freeze-framed or slo-mo action"

"The production, however, often feels curiously uninvolving, as though it lacks a central impulse... I hope that Cumberbatch does more live Shakespeare - in less insanely pressurised circumstances."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Benedict Cumberbatch is a good, personable Hamlet with a strong line in self-deflating irony, but ... he is trapped inside an intellectual ragbag of a production by Lyndsey Turner that is full of half-baked ideas."

"All this is symptomatic of an evening in which the text is not so much savagely cut as badly wounded and yet which crudely italicises what remains."

"The pity of it is that Cumberbatch could have been a first-rate Hamlet. He is no mere screen icon, but a real actor with a gift for engaging our sympathy and showing a naturally rational mind disordered by grief, murder and the hollow insufficiency of revenge."

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out


"Turner's Hamlet is one of the most visually and atmospherically stunning productions I've ever seen, of anything, ever. Styled like a cross between a really good Louis Vuitton ad and a really good Punchdrunk show, her Elsinore is a decadent fantasia of stuffed animal heads, dead flowers and dark revels."

"Yeah, yeah, but what about the 'Batch? I hear you tut. Well here's the thing: he's pretty good as the vengeful prince. Not brilliant. But very decent. He speaks the verse wonderfully and is a lithe, charismatic presence on stage."

"Maybe it's unfair to always expect some bold new interpretation of Hamlet, but the greatness of the play lies in its ambiguities - if you don't try to reconcile them it feels a bit flat."

Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph


"Cumberbatch admirers can take heart, his female devotees are entitled to swoon: in this trial of his acting strength, he emerges, unquestionably, victorious."

"But - and ay, here's the rub - he is, in truth, a blazing, five-star Hamlet trapped in a middling, three-star show. The evening's energies are dissipated not intensified by the confining Elsinore dreamed up by designer Es Devlin, and director Lyndsey Turner's tendency to hack the text."

"All in all, the production proves greater than the sum of its inchoate parts, delves deep enough into the guts of the tragedy despite its clever-cleverness."

Kate Maltby, The Times


"Lyndsey Turner's production uses the second quarto, including one great soliloquy lost by the First Folio. Some things work, some things don't."

"Urgency, that crux of Hamlet, is something with which her staging still struggles - when our prince should have his uncle at his mercy, 'Now might I do it, pat', is unconvincing when he is looking down from a balcony, at least ten feet up and half a stage away from him."

"Cumberbatch himself emerges a sardonic, wrathful Hamlet, thrillingly charismatic, if short on the humility shown by more vulnerable Hamlets such as Simon Russell Beale or even David Tennant."

Ben Brantley, New York Times

"Full of scenic spectacle and conceptual tweaks and quirks, this Hamlet is never boring. It is also never emotionally moving - except on those occasions when Mr. Cumberbatch's Hamlet is alone with his thoughts, trying to make sense of a loud, importunate world that demands so much of him."

"...when a director throws out such tantalizing gimmicks, she had better be prepared to follow through on them. Here they just seem like avant-garde window dressing."

"Hamlet has never seemed so alone, which gives him an added poignancy. This production would benefit greatly, though, if it allowed him to play well with others, too."

Hamlet continues at the Barbican until 31 October 2015. For more information click here.