Friday, October 16, 2015

Cumberbatch Hamlet live!

National Theatre Live! broadcast of Hamlet. Get out the Dyson cordless!

Special-event simulcasts like the National Theatre Live! broadcast of Hamlet yesterday provide an absolutely new way of sharing Shakespeare. Remote-assignment Oberon member Tom Townsend sent the following Hamlet report from Seattle last evening.

Tom Townsend said: 
To my very good Oxfordian friends from the Seattle Oxfordian Group, and to the Oberon group in SE Michigan, Today Joy [Townsend] and I saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘Hamlet.’ This 11;00am (Pacific Time) was actually a live performance of the play as was taped for re-broadcast.
The short review is this:You won’t want to miss this version of ‘Hamlet.’ We were impressed with the actors (mostly) and especially with Cumberbatch’s performance. The stage was used in interesting ways to make all the scenes and action clear. (On the other hand, some dialogue was deleted. You’ll remember this play contains many references to stars, retrograde, and the heavens. Only a few of the many references remained in the version.) Our theater in lower Queen Anne was packed. Only a few seats remained empty in the extreme first rows and a few seats on the far sides of the theater. It’s likely that all performances of this Hamlet will also be full. We hope all of you will have an opportunity to see this important and interesting production of Hamlet.
Oberon member Reynaldo Perez replied: 
Tom, As always good to hear from you.  I just now, 11h10 pm local time, got back home from the AMC 20 in Livonia where some of our SE Michigan Oberon group members saw the taped performance, which started at 7 pm -- late night in the UK.  Quite concur with your review.  I thought that, in particular, Hamlet, Ophelia, and Gertrude were very well cast and the placement of the soliloquies well done also. Other Oberon members will see a matinee performance shown at a later date. Not to be missed.
Oberon member Linda Theil replied:
Thank you, Tom, for your message and for linking us in Michigan with your friends in Seattle. As Rey said, some of us saw the Cumberbatch Hamlet last night and we all found it stimulating. My major reaction was the sense that because of the scene manipulation (and doubtless other content issues that I am not familiar enough with the play to be aware of) for the first time (for me) the through-line of the plot seemed crystal clear. I did not find the contrivances of Cumberbatch's costuming to be at all effective, but the emphasis on his madness ploy that those costume choices reflected was, for me, very helpful in elucidating the plot. IOW, in other Hamlets the madness seems momentary, but in this Hamlet, it seemed to define his purpose because it seemed to go on longer than I am used to. For whatever reason, the "problem" of Hamlet's indecisiveness (which I have never espoused, BTW) seemed to have evaporated -- and I thought that was a very good thing. 
I agree with Tom that the loss of the stars brought this Hamlet too much to earth. Speaking of which, I did NOT like all that dirt on the stage. I wanted to whip out my Dyson cordless and get to work on all that mess. But Richard loved it, saying it represented the disintegration of the firmament (or words to that effect -- RJ is never ponderous as I am wont to be).
Townsend said, "Time is out of joint!": 
It was great to hear from Linda [Theil] and Rey [Perez](Michigan) and Alan [Armstrong] (Seattle) [who will see an encore 10/31/15]. Linda, Thank you for your more detailed review of the ‘Hamlet.’ I know that both Joy and I felt this version was ‘clearer’ than other performances. However sometimes when a director ‘cleans up the wording for a modern audience’ they are dispensing with the important nuances specifically included by the true author (read: Oxford/Shakespeare). Also I appreciate you controlled your impulses to not to use your Dyson cordless on the dirt on the stage after the intermission. If that were possible, it would be quite interesting to say the least watching you at our Seattle theater with your Dyson on stage in London while ‘Hamlet’ is going on behind you!! “Time is out of joint.”
Richard Joyrich comments:
While I'd like to take credit for what Linda reports me saying, I did not use the word "firmament". I don't know where Linda got that, except from her own fertile mind. I was just saying that the increasing amount of dirt on the stage suggested some kind of break-up of the "natural order" or the "moral nature" of the characters. 
I agree with Linda and others in saying that the director obviously wanted the story to be more "linear" by switching scenes around and giving certain lines to different characters than in the original text. But, like others, I kind of miss the original order of these scenes. I think they make the audience think more and draw attention to the actual words (many of which have different layers of meaning).  
I particularly miss the traditional opening of "Who's there?", "Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself", which in the Cumberbatch version was used at a later point in the play when Horatio comes in to talk to Hamlet. 
In the original version, this dialogue between two soldiers sets up the whole question of "identity", which is a frequent theme in all of the works of Shakespeare. 
Anyway, I did like this version of the play very much. As Linda said, the idea of madness was quite apparent. Ophelia's mad scenes were very well done, and I think even Gertrude seemed to be going a little mad at the end, kind of walking around in a daze.

If you missed the broadcast, see encores from October 22 and on: