On Thursday 15th October, nine girls and nine teachers watched the National Theatre production of Hamlet at Harrow Vue Cinema. After buying sweet treats we settled down in our seats, anticipating the most popular play of 2015. Having read the play a year ago, I was curious to see how it would be brought to life. Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare play so I liked how the National Theatre performance stuck closely to the original text. Benedict Cumberbatch performed Hamlet well, with his funny quips changing dramatically into serious monologues.
The staging was dramatic as the people of Elsinore appeared dwarfed by their huge surroundings, as if personal feelings had have become neglected. The stage is overwhelmingly big, which is used to show how little and irrelevant our lives are in the grand scheme of time. In the second half of the play, the stage changes to a scene of rubble and earth to show madness and the falling apart of order. This enhances the powerful imagery of Ophelia climbing a mountain of earth barefoot and stumbling into the white light beyond it. In the moments before she sets off to drown herself, we see Ophelia playing the piano; she is a small broken doll-like figure in a grown-up world whose violence she cannot understand. Siân Brooke as Ophelia was incredible, her descent into madness was very convincing and moving.
Watching it streamed live from the Barbican Theatre is obviously a different experience from actually being there. The pros of being at a cinema is the camera is focused on the action, so you do not miss something important and because it is filmed we saw many angles of the play instead of just the one. We also had the advantage of viewing the actors’ faces close up and could pick up on detail which we would never had seen if we were physically at the Barbican. However, a friend of mine has seen it at the Barbican and the cinema; said how while the action was going on it missed other actors’ responses which she had previously enjoyed watching. We also missed out on being relatively close to Benedict Cumberbatch, something we all would have liked to have been. Overall it was an immersive experience and you could sense the tension in the room.
There was lots of things we as a group enjoyed about the National Theatre broadcast of Hamlet. This version was presented to be more modern, with Ophelia spending her time with her film camera, having a chest full of photographs. The characters’ clothing had more modern elements with Horatio having tattoos and wearing jeans and Hamlet sported a long coat that had “KING” written on the back. Laertes had a gun but they stayed true to the original text by having a sword fight. I particularly liked how certain parts were portrayed artistically. In Hamlets’ monologues they had the rest of the cast acting but in slow motion compared to Hamlets’ normal speed, creating the illusion that time was running slower. During the fight between Laertes and Hamlet, they continue to attack one another while everyone else moved backwards and forwards in their positions so it was like time kept rewinding and playing, emphasising the chaos. One of my favourite moments was with Cumberbatch pretending to be mad by walking all over the dining table and rambling funny comments until sudden transition into the famous lines “To be or not to be, that is the question.” It went from the whole audience laughing to very dark and serious.
I have seen several productions from the National Theatre such as ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ but feel encouraged to see more like ‘Of Mice and Men’. I would recommend seeing this production if you know the story of Hamlet or are interested in seeing a classic Shakespeare play portrayed in a refreshing new way.
by Natasha 6S1