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Hamlet Was Meant for All by Jason Basri

Posted by on Friday, October 23, 2015 in News, , , , .

On Thursday, October 15, 2015, I attended a viewing of the National Theatre of London production of Hamlet by William Shakespeare at the Regal Green Hills Stadium 16.  I was very excited to have a chance to watch another Shakespearean performance, and this one was with actors that I have begun to idolize.  Benedict Cumberbatch was headlining as Prince Hamlet.  This version of Hamlet alongside it being shown in movie theaters is some of the first evolutionary steps of the theatre landscape.

Theatres are unique.  Theatres on Broadway or in Nashville are decorative and have an aura to them.  Even the demographics of a theatre audience are different from other audiences.  Theatre productions have an exclusive vibe to everyone in the crowd.  Theatre is about getting dressed up and being among the “cultured” for the day.  Also, the liveness and fact that no two performances are ever the same add to the mystique and intrigue.  Plays are a break from the usual weekly fill of television and social media.  There are no pauses, no replays, and no distractions.  The other great part about theatre is that a viewer needs to be more engaged and involved in the story to fully get the message due to less scenery clues and due to the sometimes abstract ideas encoded by the producer.  While adapting a play into a movie takes away some of those magical characteristics of theatre, the overall benefits out way the losses for the betterment of the theatre industry.

This production of Hamlet began with the most progressive idea from the industry.  Benedict Cumberbatch was interviewed about his time learning from children about what they thought of the original script.  This dialogue between him and the children showed how Shakespeare’s Hamlet had transcended time and culture.  It also highlighted the idea that Hamlet’s messages could be applicable to any age.  This interview further shows why theatre is important.  There is so much to learn from theatre that impact our personal and social behaviors.  Having Benedict and the children articulate this message directly accomplishes a void in previous live theatre culture.  These questions and conversations show the value of theatre so that it will continue to be a staple of modern entertainment.  It also makes the whole production much more human and personal that is lost by seeing it on a big movie screen and not seeing the actors perform it live.  While humanizing the production and reminding the audience why we should care about the show beyond its entertainment value is important, it is futile if the message does not get out to a bigger audience.

Actors and producers feel the same way about having their work be enjoyed by more people than the usual crowd.  Beginning in 1999, Rent allocated blocks of seats to be sold for a discount in order to give people with lower leisure budgets a chance to witness something special (Kessenides, Dimitra).  The audience base of Hamlet expanded exponentially with the decision to show it in movie theatres and not just a traveling tour of live productions.  Tickets were averaging £100 to see it live versus only $20 at the theatre. This removes a financial barrier for a multitude of people around the world.

Hamlet was a great play to try this type of project.  The National Theatre Live production team chose a household –name play but still had to do a lot if it were to be a work of art that could be enjoyed by any age and any race.  This was done by having a diverse and prolific cast.  They chose to have a black Laertes and casted well-known actors.  These plays were written for white European males in the past but that is considered archaic today.  To keep modern audiences engaged also required updating the soundtrack and have stimulating visual effects.  There was pulsating musical background sounds and extravagant scenery.  The whole second act had a pile of soot covering the whole stage.

The textual concepts of the play are also easily recognizable and command a lot of empathy from the crowd.  Contemplating suicide, properly handling mourning, and understanding when to take a stand against corruption are all themes that could be learned to so many in today’s life.  Looking around the theatre upon the film’s conclusion, I was able to take in the demographics of the audience.  It was a much more diverse crowd than the ones in Manhattan.  The ages varied more, the ethnicities were less congruent, and the groups of people were not just families.  This crowd had theatre buffs, Shakespeare buffs, and buffoons like me looking for something new.  The relevance of Hamlet is still ubiquitous.  Furthermore, modernity appears to abbreviate historical texts to adapt to the shorter attention spans of the youth, but the director chose to keep the script close to the original to preserve the sanctity and wit of Shakespeare.  The production value enhances the moral lessons.  “The production has been accused by several critics of being overly cinematic, but … comes into its own on the screen. It would be worrying if this production set a precedent for stage shows that are directed and designed with an eye to the live screening and a global audience rather than those seeing it in the theatre” (Gardner, Lyn).  I do agree with this sentiment since it did not fully feel like theatre watching it on a screen, but what is lost from seeing it in a movie theatre is gained by its cultural significance and ability to reach a bigger market.

Theatre lovers and future theatre lovers should be thankful about this production.  Hamlet has helped the industry evolve towards being more inclusive.  Theatre has been regarded as being for the wealthy and educated and only for large cities that can support a traveling theatre troupe.  However, the positive feedback towards the progressive tactics of Hamlet and Hamilton show that theatre would be appreciated by a larger audience if it adapted to our society’s changing wants.

Works Cited

Gardner, Lyn. “Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet Comes into Its Own on the Screen.” The

Guardian. The Guardian, 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Kessenides, Dimitra. “Sold-Out Hamilton Musical Takes the Singing to the Street.”

Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 08 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.


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2 Comments on “Hamlet Was Meant for All by Jason Basri”

Jason, I love the idea of theatre being for everyone. Too often we think of theatre as an experience reserved for those well off financially. But theatre can, and should be, an experience shared by all walks of life. Shakespeare as well can have a feeling of sophistication that can scare off potential viewers. Its nice to see that Shakespeare can not only be adapted to our current society, but can come off as much more inclusive and less threatening. By exposing those to theatre and Shakespeare who usually would not have the opportunity, we improve the arts and our culture as a whole. Theatre gives its viewers the opportunity to reflect and grow, and it is an experience that is at its best when it is inclusive.

Robert Hart on November 6th, 2015 at 12:29 pm

In an era filled with distractions like TV, the internet, and cell phones, it is often easy to become too comfortable at home. With entertainment only an arm’s length away at any given time, where is the motivation to go out and find it? Why go to the theatre when you can watch a movie without leaving the couch? As Jason has observed, this particular project is attempting to fight back by bringing theatre to a wider audience than it would normally reach. Utilizing Hamlet, a play that is well known and relatable to all different groups of people, and placing it into the accessible setting of a movie theater, I agree that this was a commendable effort in spreading theatre to a bigger audience. Speaking from my own experience, I have personally never paid to see a live theatre performance with professional actors. But since this performance was showing at a cheap and accessible location, it was much easier for me to be willing to give it a chance.

While I agree with Jason’s analysis, I think there was one more important factor that he could have touched on. I’m not sure that Hamlet alone would have been enough to draw a large number of people to the performance. I think the inclusion of the extremely famous actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, was vital to the success of this project. He was the reason I became interested in it. If there is anything that people like, it’s familiarity. Placing the play within the familiar setting of the movie theater was the first step to branching out to a wider audience. But I think what really drew people to the performance was the inclusion of Cumberbatch. As an established actor with a huge fan-base, it’s not surprising that people would be interested in seeing him perform in the theatre. It adds credibility to the performance in the minds of those who are not familiar with theatre. If they know one thing, it’s that Cumberbatch is a good actor and it’s worth seeing him in action, even if it may not be the same setting they are used to. Combining the familiarity brought by Cumberbatch with the accessibility of the movie theater certainly made this project a valiant effort toward bringing theatre to a wider audience.

Kevin Adams on November 9th, 2015 at 2:26 pm

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