Credit: Johan Persson

Hamlet (2015)

The word frenzy isn’t typically associated with a Shakespeare production, but that’s exactly what London’s Barbican Theatre has on its hands with Benedict Cumberbatch starring as Hamlet. The Sherlock star guaranteed the classic play, which officially opened on Tuesday and runs until Oct. 31, would be an extraordinary success: the show immediately became the fastest-selling ticket in London theater history and he even had to plead with fans so that preview audiences would stop videotaping his performance.

But is the new production — and Cumberbatch — any good? Ay, there’s the rub. The critics (at least those who didn’t already break the embargo) chimed in swiftly and, in general, were kind to its star, who, at 39 years of age, is a rather old Prince of Denmark. Many of the reviews found fault in director Lyndsey Turner’s more-modern staging — but who the heck cares… CUMBERBATCH, BABY!

“He was quite lively growing up, but I thought that was phenomenal,” Cumberbatch’s mother, Wanda Ventham, told reporters following the premiere. If you need more objective opinions, scroll below.

Ben Brantley (New York Times)

“[Cumberbatch] is in fighting trim here, and brings energy and precision to every word and movement, including the climactic fencing match. Yet this Hamlet seldom seems to relate to anyone else onstage. In the big dialogue scenes, you’re conscious of Mr. Cumberbatch riding Shakespeare’s rushing words like a surfboard, as if saving his interior energy for the monologues. In those, he is superb, meticulously tracing lines of thought into revelations that stun, elate, exasperate and sadden him.”

Dominic Cavendish (London Telegraph)

“Cumberbatch admirers can take heart, his female devotees are entitled to swoon: in this trial of his acting strength, he 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, makes the part his — and yes, justifies the hysteria.”

Michael Billington (London Guardian)

“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.”

Leslie Felperin (Hollywood Reporter)

“When [the ‘to be or not to be’ speech] did arrive, the delivery was matter of fact, and sounded more like someone puzzling over a tricky math problem. However, elsewhere the other famous monologues and soliloquies — like the “what a piece of work is man” speech, the heartfelt advice on naturalism to the players — hummed with growing passion, and by the time the dust cannons went off and the curtain fell for intermission, Cumberbatch was fully on form.”

Quentin Letts (London Daily Mail)

“Cumberbatch’s prince is of an age that we may be tempted to tell him ‘pull yourself together, chum — you’re old enough to face these things like a man.’ It is a pity Mr Cumberbatch did not give us his Hamlet a decade ago but he is the main reason for seeing this show. Despite the silly publicity frenzy — which calls to mind Shakespeare’s line about ‘a fantasy and trick of fame’ — he certainly lives up to the billing.”

Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out London)

“He’s pretty good as the vengeful prince. Not brilliant. But very decent. He speaks the verse wonderfully and is a lithe, charismatic presence on stage. But he doesn’t seem to have come up with much of a reading of the doomed Dane. Or if he has, it’s drowned out by Turner’s enormous production. … A similar malaise afflicts the rest of the cast — everyone is fair but nobody dazzles.”

Matt Trueman (Variety)

“His Hamlet stands in for a generation, one that’s stuck in adolescence and shirking all responsibility. … He’s a living, breathing identity crisis, scholarly one moment, silly the next and always, always self-absorbed. It’s often said that no one actor can hit all of Hamlet’s contradictions. For Cumberbatch it’s a juggling act, one trait at a time, not Hamlet as a whole. Cumberbatch is composite.”

Paul Taylor (London Independent)

“The actor commands the stage with a whirling energy but we rarely feel soul-to-soul with this Hamlet, party because he’s often made to deliver the soliloquies against distracting freeze-framed or slo-mo action, partly because we don’t sense that the actor is laying himself bare too as is the case with the greatest exponents of the role such as Mark Rylance and Simon Russell Beale.”

Joe Uitchi (Deadline)

“Cumberbatch is exceptionally good, merging character and actor without the latter dominating. This production knows Cumberbatch’s star is going to draw people unfamiliar with Shakespeare, so the staging is broad and unsubtle; it doesn’t bring anything drastically new or profound to the material. So what?”

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Hamlet (2015)
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