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Hamlet’s Technical and Thematic Successes by Onye Okeke

Posted by on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 in News, , , , .

On Thursday, October 15, 2015, I attended a filmed showing of the National Theatre of London production of Hamlet by William Shakespeare at the Regal Green Hills Stadium. Hamlet is my favorite Shakespearean play, so I was very thrilled with the opportunity of seeing it. Benedict Cumberbatch, a well-known actor, played Hamlet, and he did not disappoint. The actors and the production team delivered high energy, high efficacy, and high sincerity.

This filmed performance of Hamlet’s purpose was to combine elements of traditional theatre with a technological medium to show how theatre too is an innovative art form that is not archaic. Theatre is live production, and it lives as its own entity. Theatre emphasizes actor to actor actions and emotions and drawing them out of one another. The actors in Hamlet each brought out emotion in each other. Particularly, Hamlet and Horatio each had moments of great emotional stress. I loved the emotional tension Hamlet displayed to Horatio when confronted with the news of a ghost. Another important piece of live performance is lighting, and it was integral to this play. The production team was able to utilize lights to emphasize characters, add night time, and even discern outside darkness from inside darkness. The fun scene transitions were my favorite. The transitions were elegant and precise. Scene transitions consisted of a team moving swiftly and smoothly to add a fast-forward effect. The transitions seemed animated, fluid, and lively. Lighting helped greatly in achieving said effect. In addition, the coloration of lighting, and the slow movement of background characters, made the character giving his/her soliloquy or monologue pop out. Hamlet loved giving monologues, and I invested myself to listen, because the world on stage changed from life to life inside Hamlet’s head. Lastly, because this was a filmed performance, the camera provided a great deal of versatility to the play. Angles accentuated certain parts of the scenes or certain characters. Close ups were also integral in highlighting certain characters, but also in portraying the drama and seriousness at times. There was a close-up of Claudius’ face after Hamlet’s friends acted out a requested play. This decisive moment of Claudius’ reactions gave Hamlet and the audience evidence and proof. The zoom provided an opportunity to see all the micro-expressions and facial tension up close. Hamlet harnessed the feel of a video camera but kept all of the elements that make theatre so distinct.

Benedict Cumberbatch played Hamlet and did a phenomenal job. His portrayal of Hamlet’s “madness” was accurate, real, and humorous. His humor, added a dynamic to Hamlet that I had never felt before. The name Cumberbatch alone is a motivator for some people to see this production, and the movie theatre was nearly filled. However, Cumberbatch alone cannot account for the play’s significance. This play was able to reach a larger audience. Not only Shakespeare fans and Hamlet fans, but Cumberbatch fans in Nashville come to see this. Nashville is a city dedicated to the arts of all forms: music, painting, performance, etc. A large fan base for theatre exists. Furthermore, the production benefitted more than just the actors and patrons. Part of the proceeds go towards Syrian refugees who have fled their homes due to war. Nashville is home to many nonprofits and people in support of charity, so it is fitting that the National Theatre of London would choose a socially and justice conscious city such as Nashville. Nashville is receptive of the idea of benefitting others, and so am I. Not only is there societal significance, but a conscious worldview is present as well. Their acting brings forth more than just individual and collective talent; it brings about charitability.

The production of Hamlet brings multiple important themes to the table. Hamlet is a tragedy displaying themes of revenge, irony, and love. These themes are easily relatable. My brother once told me that all people are vindictive, but some people are more open and accepting of this apparently innate characteristic. This is not a play about vindictiveness per se, rather, Hamlet depicts the effect of emotions on the mind, and vindictiveness is a very plausible reaction. Hamlet’ scheme involves him going mad. That was the act, but in actuality, there is a great deal of turmoil going on in his mind. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a depiction of the human mind from an autistic lens. Hamlet is a depiction of the mind as well, but from a revenge standpoint. I am a huge fan of visual representations of the mind. Cumberbatch uses hand gestures, yelling, and wild body movements to portray the madness. The scene in which he plays with a rifle in a mini castle seems iconic because of the irony of his status and his “immaturity/madness.” But the audience (and me) at least sympathizes with Hamlet. Revenge for the murder of a loved father seems justified, but the irony that ensues is almost cruel: he and virtually all other characters die. What makes Hamlet significant is its portrayal of the result of the myriad of emotions that are provoked in the death of a loved one. The lens of which the audience can view this world draws in personal experiences and connects us to the play. Hamlet is so insightful, because it gives the audience a visual representation of how revenge can manifest itself and transpire.


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3 Comments on “Hamlet’s Technical and Thematic Successes by Onye Okeke”

All the points mentioned above speak to the universality of theater and its ability to unite people together. Thinking back to the discussion of “liveness,” it’s this desire to live in the moment and witness an ephemeral spectacle that once again draws people to view theater through a medium other than the stage. It’s worth noting that this presentation of Hamlet was only playing for one day, with an encore a week later. The play itself takes place in London and is broadcasted around the world, namely the United States. Without the use of technology, this play would be presented on a much smaller scale, severely limiting the potential audience and stifling the amount of money that could be raised for the Syrian refugees. As Oney mentions above, Benedict Cumberbatch has serious star power. He draws crowds, and this presentation of Hamlet uses his celebrity to its advantage; it doesn’t hurt that he does a fantastic job, but because the performances are limited to the span of a day or two, it’s how the play is presented that ultimately determines how many people show up.

Besides Benedict’s celebrity, Hamlet’s themes are compelling to a wide audience. There is the notion of revenge for a wrong done to your family, issues of mental health and love, and just like Sophocles, there is also a lesson imparted at the end of the piece. The audience watches the gradual decline of a prince and his entire kingdom, instinctively critiquing the consequences of revenge, despite Hamlet’s intentions stemming from a good place. In his desire to avenge his father, Hamlet destroys himself, raising moral questions for the audience as to what they would do in a similar situation. Hamlet is a figurative “train wreck,” where virtually every character dies throughout the play in a series of misunderstandings and accidental deaths. It prevents the audience from looking away, and places them in an omniscient role where they know what will happen but are unable to stop it. This also speaks to the appeal Benedict Cumberbatch has in playing this role. It allows him to be seen in a different light, portraying a character that loses his grip on reality, and in turn further draws the audience in as they watch his universe unravel. It is a combination of Hamlet’s inclusive nature, the use of Benedict, it’s universal appeal, and philanthropic goals that kept the seats in the theater packed and the viewers enthralled.

marinove on November 8th, 2015 at 3:44 am

After attending Hamlet by William Shakespeare at the Regal The Regal Green Hills Theater, I understand how Shakespearean plays are timeless. I have seen Hamlet a few times before seeing this version. The play was always good but I never seemed to connect to the performance. This production put a modern twist on an old classic and pulled me in to relate and feel for the characters. Okeke stated, “This filmed performance of Hamlet’s purpose was to combine elements of traditional theatre with a technological medium to show how theatre too is an innovative art form that is not archaic.” The filmed medium added a deeper connection to the actors and the words they were saying. This personal relationship with the actors and the performance as a whole forced me to be more invested in the performance. Although it was filmed, I still got the live feeling that a normal live play would evoke.

The filmed aspect of the play was able to revamp a traditional play. After going to many plays and sitting in nosebleed seats, one doesn’t always pick up on small movements or little looks. This performance was able to capture movie-like actions through a live method.

Elisabeth Kvam on November 8th, 2015 at 10:59 pm

If you want to take on a real challenge, take the arguably most famous Shakespearian tragedy, and produce it as a film to be screened in theaters across the globe. Lyndsey Turned and the National Theatre in London took on this feat with intense artistry and ease, churning out an unsurprisingly high-quality production of Hamlet through the NTL’s Live Program. Several of my peers, Zephyr Zink, Jason Basri, and Onye Okeke, each wrote a critical essay outlining their perceptions of this production in relation to our culture today. All three essays were strong, thus I argue that each author provides a unique argument that contributes to answering the million dollar question: “Why this production now?”
A film recording of a staged play is an incredibly unique theatrical experience, and Zephr, Jason, and Onye focus on somewhat different aspects of this style of performance. Zephr’s main argument is very safe: Turned’s production makes high-quality theatre accessible to a wide audience. His focus on the interviews before the actual production makes his argument unique, highlighting the fact that by including interviews with the actors, the audience is “eased into” the play. While Zephr’s argument is true, it is also quite evident. Jason takes Zephr’s argument a step further by stating that the purpose of this production is inclusivity (in terms of themes, audience, and casting). I agree that the filmed version of the production allows more people to see the show at a lower price; however, the “diversity” of the cast does nothing to promote inclusivity. Yes, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s playing of Laertes contributes some diversity to the cast. On the whole, all of the actors are white, and very few other ethnicities are represented. I am not claiming that this lack of variety in ethnicities is necessarily a bad thing—the cast is just not as diverse or inclusive as Jason is arguing. Finally, Onye’s essay was the most difficult for me to understand as a holistic argument. In his introduction, Onye states, “This filmed performance of Hamlet’s purpose was to combine elements of traditional theatre with a technological medium to show how theatre too is an innovative art form that is not archaic.” This thesis statement made me assume that Onye would be focusing on the idea that this production was a filmed stage production, thus altering the audience perception of the piece. He provides only one example to support this: a close-up shot of Claudius. Instead, Onye discusses elements of the production that are unaffected by the filming, such as the vivid lighting design, a strong showcase of acting, and many universal themes within the play. I contend that each of these there essays provide some significant insights into the role of Turned’s Hamlet in our modern culture, but due to major flaws in each of the essays, not one can stand alone as a strong response to the production.

lazarzhr on November 24th, 2015 at 5:42 pm

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