Hamlet: To See or Not to See?

globe theatre

Tess Milligan

Plays were meant to be seen, not read. Seeing the text acted out is the best way to make a person understand the action, the themes and the joy that such a work can produce. Shakespeare’s plays were first published in 1623, seven years after his death. Until then, the only access the public had was their many performances. Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and even if you haven’t read or seen it, you are bound to heard the famous question: “To be or not to be?” It is also a play which can be performed in a thousand ways and never leave with you with the same effect. This is proven by the latest performance of it at the Barbarican in London’s West End, which was broadcast live to cinemas throughout the UK last week. The tickets for the London show were quickly booked and sold out, and the audience were not left disappointed.

While the entire cast shone, it was Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Hamlet that stole the show. His performance far outclassed previous appearances in the famous television show ‘Sherlock’, in which he also plays the titular character. Cumberbatch is versatile, emphasising the dark humour within Hamlet’s character – that which is often overshadowed by his quest for vengeance. The audience clearly enjoyed this ‘new’ Hamlet, as the cinema was filled with laughter, particularly during the first act.

The scene production and general image of the play was stunning – merging old and new to create a timeless feel. Colonial army uniforms are mixed with modern clothing and set pieces, while the older furniture is paired with contemporary decor. It keeps the scene looking visually interesting, displacing a very old story without disrupting the prose. The special effects were immense in magnitude throughout the performance, from the almost apocalyptic atmosphere of Act One’s ending, to the muddied campsite literally invading the once peaceful home of Hamlet in his absence.

The production itself went almost without error but, as it was viewed in a cinema, the audience were forced to deal with some unforeseen technical faults. Moreover, the price does cause some concern as it is nearly twenty pounds for a student ticket. However, considering what it would cost for a ticket to the actual London show, this must be seen as somewhat of a bargain.

Other than this, the experience of seeing a play in the cinema becomes a fascinating experience. Pamphlets (similar to what you might expect in London) were distributed to audience members, while alcoholic beverages were sold before and during intermission. It gives people the chance to experience a West End show and a new take on the Shakespeare classic without the extortionate price tag. Live broadcasting could definitely be the way forward, as it gives people all over the UK and beyond the chance to see the play performed on stage, as it was always meant to be.


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