Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre, August 2015.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre, August 2015.

As one critic stated upfront: the press night is a major anti-climax. Nevertheless, while the verdicts don’t make a blind bit of difference to the box office on a production that sold out at record speed a year ago, it’s time to take pause and review the reviews for #HamletBarbican, a.k.a. the Benedict Cumberbatch show. While the actor himself fared decently, particularly for his thoughtful delivery of the play’s soliloquys, most critics were not won over by the production as a whole, directed by Lyndsey Turner and designed by Es Devlin.

(In my opinion – which counts for little, as I have not seen the production and, after all the hype and hysteria, have little desire to – I don’t think the pressure that the artists involved have been subjected to, not least Cumberbatch himself, is conducive to creating great art.)

Anyway, here are the main overnight reviews and also a reminder of some of the high-profile embargo-breakers.

Hamlet continues at the Barbican until 31 October 2015. But, if you don’t already have tickets or fancy camping out for returns or day seats, you’ll have a better chance catching it in cinemas, broadcast via NT Live, on 15 October.



Michael Billington: After all the hype and hysteria, the event itself comes as an anticlimax… Cumberbatch has a gift for suggesting Hamlet’s essential decency, but visual conceits take the place of textual investigation in this frustrating staging… He might have given us infinitely more, if he were not imprisoned by a dismal production…


Ben Brantley: He is, he complains sulkily, “too much in the sun.” That is correct on so many levels… Full of scenic spectacle and conceptual tweaks and quirks, this Hamlet is never boring. It is also never emotionally moving — except on those occasions when Mr Cumberbatch’s Hamlet is alone with his thoughts…


Paul Taylor: With his great gift for portraying the brilliant misfit and racing, ironic intellect, Benedict Cumberbatch is natural casting for Hamlet. But I wonder if a bit of him now wishes that he’d tackled the part at some point before the global success of Sherlock rocketed him into the celebrity stratosphere… We never quite get the sense that the actor is laying himself bare…


Dominic Cavendish: Dear (possibly exhausted) reader I will toy with you no further. Cumberbatch admirers can take heart, his female devotees are entitled to swoon: in this trial of his acting strength, he emerges, unquestionably, victorious… In his own way he stands equal to the best modern Hamlets, makes the part his – and yes, justifies the hysteria…


Henry Hitchings: Cumberbatch is a charismatic Hamlet, energetic and also pensive… at his best when delivering Shakespeare’s philosophically charged soliloquies… The production is less involving than it should be. Cumberbatch is nimble, precise and serious, but overall this is a stylish interpretation rather than an electrifyingly audacious one…

TIME OUT – ★★★

Andrzej Lukowski: Cumberbatch struggles to make himself felt in Lyndsey Turner’s enormous production…. It’s a solid production and it’ll look great in cinemas when it screens on October 15. Regular punters will probably like it more than Shakespeare geeks will, and the media circus almost certainly isn’t over, but let’s try and be civil, eh?


These three publications are all on the naughty step, having ‘reviewed’ the production on its very first preview on 5 August. Some other respected titles, like the Telegraph, also went in early, but I’ve included Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish’s official review from this morning above rather than duplicate a verdict.

TIMES – ★★

Kate Maltby: Alas, poor Benedict. It’s hard to flatten Hamlet: he is, after all, Shakespeare’s most quicksilver creation… Cumberbatch has all the energy Hamlet requires, but there’s little subtlety in this performance… What a waste! It’s Shakespeare for the kids…

DAILY MAIL – ★★★★★

Jan Moir: First there was Sherlock. Then there was Frankenstein. Now for the biggie, the monster role of them all – Hamlet. Cumberbatch’s Hamlet in a hoodie was electrifying… Goodnight, sweet prince. You were completely amazing…


Jonathan Holmes: Benedict Cumberbatch playing Hamlet is so obvious, it feels like it happened already… It is tempting to view Cumberbatch’s Hamlet as representing the triumph of nerd culture… This is not the Hamlet we were expecting from him, but only Cumberbatch could pull it off…