Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet reviewed

5 reasons why it’s one of the most thrilling nights at the theatre ever

Benedict Cumberbatch

by Boyd Hilton |

There have been weeks of preview performances during which the production is tested out in front of audiences (and which some naughty critics reviewed), but this evening (25 August) was the official “opening night” of Hamlet, starring that Benedict Cumberbatch.

Tickets sold out over a year ago in minutes (although they do make a small selection of seats available every morning for which you can queue), but we were lucky enough to see the finished production in all its spectacular glory. Quite simply, it’s one of the best live theatre experiences ever, for these reasons:


1. Cumberbatch

Yes, we’re all expecting him to be brilliant, but Benedict’s performance is also surprising, unpredictable and extraordinary from start to finish. He starts in steadily contemplative form, goes for the (rather inexplicable) Hamlet-pretends-to-be-mad stuff in hilarious style and makes the big, legendary speeches like “To be or not to be” feel fresh and vibrant. Above all, his Hamlet is seething with barely suppressed anger and moral outrage. It’s riveting to watch.

2. Everyone else

The whole cast is pretty much perfect, but special mentions must go to Leo Bill, who’s a delight as Hamlet’s BFF Horatio, Siân Brooke deeply moving as Ophelia, Anastasia Hille (recently seen in Channel 4’s Not Safe For Work) as Gertrude, and the genius Ciarán Hinds (Mance Rayder in Game Of Thrones) as Claudius, who kicks off the whole plot by taking the place of Hamlet’s dead dad and marrying his mum.

3 The set

Forget your big musicals, this is the most spectacular set we’ve ever seen, using the vast Barbican stage to create a huge palace which in the second part of the show is the subject of the an extraordinary transformation which leaves the audience stunned and amazed.

4 The lighting and music

This is the most visually arresting and sounding staging of Shakespeare we’ve ever seen, using cinematic lighting tricks and superbly atmospheric music by Jon Hopkins.

5 The pace

Yes it’s three hours long in total, but the night genuinely flies by, such is the cunningly relentless pace of the direction (by Lindsay Turner of Posh fame) which never flags, making this a truly accessible and thrilling event. Beg, borrow or line up in the morning for one of the tickets they make available every day. It’s so worth it.

Hamlet is at The Barbican Theatre, London until October 31 and will be broadcast to cinemas around the world on Thursday 15 October as part of National Theatre Live

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us
Now playing
Listen Live
Heat Radio's Hitlist