The late Spike Milligan once remarked that he had arranged to meet a friend in the bar at London’s Barbican Centre and was still trying to find him three days later. For all its many facelifts, it remains a notoriously tricky place to navigate. But, suddenly that seems to have become an advantage for staff and star performer.
It’s reported that Benedict Cumberbatch, who is playing Hamlet there in the much anticipated production that started previews this week and opens officially in a couple of weeks’ time, will make use of the maze of exits and entrances to plan his escape each night. In that way, he willl not have to mingle with the masses of fans at the stage door. The ‘Cumberbitches’, as his female admirers are known, will have to make do with seeing their idol on stage.
The Barbican management has already announced that no autographs will be signed, and no gifts from fans accepted at the stage door for Mr Cumberbatch. All of which might be rather a disappointment for the ‘Cumberbitches’, who are apparently coming from as far away as Asia and America to see the Sherlock star play the Prince.
Me, I’m with the ‘Cumberbitches’ on this. It seems only fair that if you have made your way from Shanghai or New York to see the play, and even managed to make your way round the Barbican, then the least you deserve is an autograph and a few words from the star.
Others who have played Hamlet on stage, from Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud to David Tennant and Jude Law, weren’t exactly short of fans and fame, but they didn’t feel they had to resort to scurrying out of side exits and refusing to sign autographs or accept gifts.
It goes with the territory, Benedict. There is an unwritten contract between stage star and fans that if the fans patiently wait at the stage door after a performance they will get a glimpse of their idol, and he or she will take a few minutes to sign the odd autograph, pose for a few selfies, and chat. In its small way, it is one of the most pleasing traditions of theatre, because it suggests inclusivity and live interaction between audience and actor, two aspects of theatre which set it apart from many other art forms.
It is great that the presence of Benedict Cumberbatch will ensure that this Hamlet is seen by a lot of first-time theatregoers. It’s great, too, that for each performance there will be a set number of £10 tickets to make the experience affordable. But, after a long journey and several hours of Hamlet, the ‘Cumberbitches’ deserve their five minutes ogling an actor. And they deserve the thrill, if thrill it be, of being allowed to hand in a gift for him. Who exactly gets harmed in the process?
I suspect that it is over-protective minders and Barbican officials, rather than the actor himself, who are making these silly rules. But they would do well to relax. Otherwise, they risk making their star look a little pompous.
Sir Ian McKellen thought better of this advice
I wonder how Benedict Cumberbatch will solve the problem that obsessed Sir Ian McKellen before he played Hamlet on stage. Sir Ian once recalled that before his first performance in the role he told a friend that he was worried about the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Everyone had heard or read it so many times, so many great actors had put their stamp on it, what was he to do to make it sound fresh, as audiences knew it so well? The friend, perhaps not an avid theatregoer or Shakespearean scholar himself, suggested: “Couldn’t you just leave it out?”
Oh you mean that Paul McCartney
It must be hard for broadcasters –- as it can be for newspapers – to know just how much knowledge to assume people have about cultural figures. But, watching the news at the beginning of the week about the death of Cilla Black, I felt that the BBC assumed rather too little knowledge, as the on-screen news wire on the BBC News Channel informed us throughout the evening that “singer Sir Paul McCartney said it was a privilege to know and love her.” It could have been worse, I suppose. It could have said “bass guitarist Sir Paul McCartney.”