The best performances of Shakespeare make you feel as though you’re discovering his work for the first time, and this psychologically-charged interpretation of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, allowed me to better appreciate elements of the text I’d previously overlooked, even after multiple readings.
Hamlet’s strained relationship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is particularly beautifully realized; Cumberbatch imbues the “Do you think I am easier to play than a pipe?” speech–which on the page reads more like a “gotcha” moment, serving only to illustrate the protagonist’s cleverness–with genuine pain over his former friends’ betrayal. Additionally, the more modern setting, which juxtaposes Hamlet’s flannel-clad, tattooed college buddies with the pomp and ceremony of his home life, illuminates a deeper conflict between the prince’s personal desires and the expectations imposed upon him, from Claudius berating him for his excessive mourning to the ghost of his father demanding that he seek vengeance. As the villain’s friendly facade is stripped away and Hamlet’s guilt over his own bloody actions gradually eats away at his psyche, literal mounds of dirt overtake the halls of Elsinore Castle, symbolically equalizing highborn and low in the cold, indifferent mud.
Honestly, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about seeing National Theatre Live: Hamlet; I’d missed the screening of Danny Boyle’s production of “Frankenstein” by a week, and this seemed like the next best thing. Thankfully, it ended up being a worthy adaptation of one of my favorite works of English literature.
[Originally written December 19, 2016.]