National Theatre Live: Hamlet movie full length review - Hamlet mulched
No one who knows Shakespeare's great play and is not besotted with the most recent idol Mr. Cumberbatch or what passes for creativity on the stage (even after decades of such nonsense) could think this most pretentious of productions worth seeing for anyone.
Young students will get only a false idea of the play and of what theater can be; readers of Shakespeare will be appalled, disgusted, etc.; and devotees of such theatrical drivel need no encouragement.
Of course, Cumberbatch's fans will not notice or care about the production's absurdities, and, in fact, Cumberbatch is a good actor. He has some trouble with Shakespeare's syntax here and there: "It is not-- nor it cannot come to--good"; Foul deeds will rise--though all the world o'erwhelm them--to men's eyes." That's how the lines are supposed to be read, but I don't blame Cumberbatch for not knowing this. Doesn't the National Theatre have anyone on its payroll who can recognize and correct such errors? It makes one realize the value of diagramming sentences. Perhaps the person responsible for such matters was employed instead to sweep away all the mulch after each performance.
Did I mention mulch? Yes, there was mulch--tons of mulch. After the intermission, we see the interior scene on the stage has been covered with mulch. Ophelia must even wipe it off the piano on which she accompanies herself for one of her songs. In this respect, however, Ophelia seems less crazy than the rest of the characters, who never seem to notice that all of this mulch has invaded the living room. Perhaps leaky walls or broken windows after a severe storm? Perhaps a terribly mistaken delivery that was actually meant for the gardens? Who knows?
What is even more amusing that the patent ridiculousness of what the director no doubt meant and some in the audience will see as a profound and even sublime metaphor for the world of the play is the amazing lack of self-awareness in making this decision, for mulch is the perfect metadramatic metaphor for this production. What is mulch but the ground-up remains of what was once living? And mulch is exactly what "Hamlet" becomes after this production has put it through a grinder, discarded half the results, assigned many of the remaining lines to characters for whom Shakespeare did not write them, abandoning Shakespeare's very words when they presumably (since I could discern no consistency in their decisions from one instance to the next) thought the audience wouldn't be able to understand them.
And the poor actors! Like the characters who must pretend the mulch is not in the living room, they must valiantly carry on in this debacle of a production. I feel sorry for them all, except perhaps Cumberbatch. If he were a serious Shakespearean actor devoted to the plays and the language, he could have leveraged his star power, which was undoubtedly responsible for the production's financial success, to insist on an approach that might have at least offered him the chance to argue for his place among the best Hamlets. Instead, we have yet another instance of, as Maynard Mack, quoting Robert Frost's "Oven Bird," says of such productions, "what to make of a diminished thing?" For this particular production, one might also add from the same poem: "The highway dust is over all." What a wasted opportunity.