Sunday, October 18, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet Rings True Today


Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as Hamlet came to Washington's Mazza Gallerie mall last Thursday night. On the giant screen, live in HD from the Barbican (well, tape-delayed, as we saw the 7 pm encore), Cumberbatch's huge head in tight close-up--so close that you could literally see him sweat--made for riveting viewing.

Perhaps not the most elevated interpretation ever staged, perhaps a bit juvenile, rather loud,  too "trendy" (Horatio as an urban hipster seemed a bridge too far), too sooty (couldn't King Claudius afford a cleaning crew so that the court wouldn't have to walk over piles of debris in Act II?), yet, nevertheless, proving that the Bard still has what it takes to pack in audiences after 400 years, and is relatively invulnerable to stupid stage gimmicks, as well.

Acting was good, overall, even if sets and costumes sometimes distracted from the action and character. Ophelia could have looked a little more innocent for my taste, and the 1930s Cabinet War Rooms seemed to conflict with the palatial surroundings as well as the contemporary jeans and jacket look--not to mention it being strange to seeing outdoors played inside the palace--but the strangeness was in keeping with the madness at the center of the whole story. Hamlet as PTSD-suffering Rock Star.

Best line of the night, IMHO, one which triggered my own PTSD-like flashbacks to the CNN 2016 Democratic Presidential  Election Debate a few nights earlier, was Hamlet's description of his mother Queen Gertrude, a powerful woman in high office, as well as wife to his father's usurper and murderer:

Hamlet:
O most pernicious woman!
O villain, villain, smiling, damn├Ęd villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain
At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 105–109

It was worth the price of admission just to hear Cumberbatch declaim such verse, complete condemnation penned at another time, yet words which still echo today.