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Cumberbatch wins praise for Hamlet role

Published 26/08/2015

Benedict Cumberbatch in rehearsal for Hamlet
Benedict Cumberbatch in rehearsal for Hamlet

Critics have hailed Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Hamlet as "victorious" whilst branding the show an "anti-climax" .

Reviewers at the official opening of the Shakespeare adaptation last night were effusive about the Sherlock star, instead focusing their critiques on the production itself.

The play, which has become the fastest-selling in British history since the Oscar-nominated actor's participation was announced, has been unable to shake off early mixed criticism, after two newspapers ran reviews during the previews.

The Times was scathing, calling it "Hamlet for kids raised on Moulin Rouge", although the Daily Mail hailed the performance with a five-star rating.

Critics emerged from the show questioning the position of the "to be or not to be" soliloquy, which had initially been delivered in Act One during previews but was moved to Act Three, although Cumberbatch's delivery won praise across the board.

The Guardian's Michael Billington called the production, directed by Lyndsey Turner, an "intellectual ragbag" and awarded only two stars.

He said: "After all the hype and hysteria, the event itself comes as an anti-climax. My initial impression is that Benedict Cumberbatch is a good, personable Hamlet with a strong line in self-deflating irony, but that he is trapped inside an intellectual ragbag of a production by Lyndsey Turner that is full of half-baked ideas. Denmark, Hamlet tells us, is a prison. So too is this production.

"Cumberbatch, in short, suggests Hamlet's essential decency. But he might have given us infinitely more, if he were not imprisoned by a dismal production that elevates visual effects above narrative coherence and exploration of character."

Paul Taylor, for the Independent, was only slightly more forgiving, offering it three stars, but said Cumberbatch's Danish prince was difficult to connect with, owing to the play's staging.

He said: "The actor commands the stage with a whirling energy but we rarely feel soul-to-soul with this Hamlet, partly 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."

The Telegraph and the Mail, represented by Quentin Letts, were equally disappointed in the production, even if they were quite taken with the Imitation Game star's individual performance.

Awarding four stars, Dominic Cavendish wrote in the Telegraph: "Cumberbatch emerges, unquestionably, victorious. He may lack the moodiness of Daniel Day-Lewis, the quirkiness of David Tennant or the raw edge of Jude Law but in his own way he stands equal to the best modern Hamlets.

"But he is, in truth, a blazing, five-star Hamlet trapped in a three-star show. The evening's energies are dissipated by the confining Elsinore of designer Es Devlin, and director Lyndsey Turner's tendency to hack the text."

Mr Letts, who gave the show four stars, felt it was the supporting cast that let Cumberbatch down.

"This is a fine Hamlet in a patchy, occasionally puerile production. Mr Cumberbatch gives a reminder that he is a top-rank stage actor. It is a pity he could not have been persuaded to do his Hamlet with a top-notch outfit such as the Royal Shakespeare Company or an ace director such as Michael Grandage," he said.

"The rest of the cast, if not quite second division, is outclassed by its leading man."

The New York Times' Ben Brantley said Cumberbatch was "superb".

He wrote: "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.

"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."

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