Help me, hence, ho!, as Lady Macbeth might say, fainting to the ground. Look to the lady! And to all the other “real” theatregoers who might be currently swooning, because they have all been effectively excluded from experiencing their umpteenth version of Shakespeare’s other great tragedy, Hamlet.
Poor things! En route to the Barbican box office they were trampled beneath a stampede of Cumberbitches, Cumbercookies, and the rest of the sizeable fan base belonging to Benedict Cumberbatch, the star playing the lead. “Regular” theatregoers - who presumably book the same seat for every performance in the Barbican season (“Mine’s 19F, thanks”) - have had their treat denied them thanks to the sharp elbows and superior booking skills of diehard Sherlock fans. And they are miffed.
Apparently the rude lot who have pushed in are not the people who want to see Hamlet “for its own merits”. They aren’t even going because it’s on the A Level syllabus. They want to see Hamlet because of the leading man.
To my mind, this is an entirely valid reason. Impresarios have been casting the sexy and the popular into lead roles since before the Globe was even built. What is seeing Hamlet “for its own merits” about, if not the magnetism of the titular hero?
Surely the whole brilliance of casting Cumberbatch, himself hardly a stranger to the boards (darlings, I saw him play Tesman in Hedda absolutely yonks ago at the Almeida, yah boo!), is precisely because he will encourage people who may not be regular theatregoers to enter the auditorium. Can we just remember that this is a production at the Barbican, which, when I last looked, was a partially publicly-funded enterprise? Subsidised or not, it is absolutely the theatre’s duty to bring in irregular visitors, for such a deed ensures the continuing life of the art form.
I remember when audiences at the National Theatre changed. In my view, a single production did it: Jerry Springer, The Opera, produced by Nick Hytner. They liked what they saw, and thought they might go back for more. The National now has a far more diverse audience.
Theatre highlights of 2015
Theatre highlights of 2015
1/7 Hamlet - Barbican
The advance sales broke records, but there will be 100 £10 tickets held back for each day’s performance of the most hotly anticipated classical production of the year: Benedict Cumberbatch as Shakespeare’s brainiest hero, directed by Lyndsey (Chimerica) Turner.
2/7 Bend it Like Beckham - Phoenix Theatre
Gurinder Chadha directs a musical adaptation of her film about a Sikh girl who defies her family for football, scored by Howard Goodall. We’re promised a celebratory state-of-the-nation comedy.
3/7 Hard Problem - National Theatre
The Hard Problem is consciousness in Tom Stoppard’s first new play for nine years. It’s set in a brain science institute and directed by Nicholas Hytner, who steps down at the National Theatre after a glorious reign, in April.
4/7 The Hook - Royal & Derngate
To celebrate the Arthur Miller centenary, James Dacre directs a world premiere, adapted by Ron Hutchinson from Miller’s FBI-suppressed screenplay about mobsters in the dockyards of 1950s Brooklyn.
5/7 Farinelli and the King - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Mark Rylance stars in this fascinating real-life story, dramatised by his wife Claire van Kampen, about Philippe V of Spain and the castrato whose voice cured him of insomnia and despair.
6/7 Antigone - Barbican and King's Theatre
The visionary Flemish director Ivo van Hove brings us Sophocles’s great tragedy in a modern version starring Juliette Binoche.
7/7 The Vote -Donmar Warehouse
James Graham aims for a media coup with his drama set in a fictional London polling booth in the last 90 minutes of Election Day 2015. The run culminates in a live broadcast on More4 on the day.
The layered cultural snobbery surrounding this single event has been astonishing. In one newspaper yesterday there was actually a Hamlet quiz - presumably so readers could out those who, shamefully, could not say what an “arras” actually is, or the name of Hamlet’s girlfriend. The questions were posed to Cumberbatch fans queueing outside the theatre. Only one person in ten got all the questions right. Imagine!
This pathetic exercise displays all that is threatening to turn British theatre into a moribund death mask.
Can I just remind everyone that before you go to a production of Hamlet, it really is not necessary to know what the arras is, Or, even, who Hamlet is. Shakespeare lays it all out before you during the show; that’s his job.
Frankly, there is nothing worse than seeing Hamlet, Macbeth, The Cherry Orchard, or any of the rest of the regular roll call next to a bunch of dreary know-alls who can recite every single line, and knowingly compare this arras to that.
Theatre can be the most gripping and thrilling art form possible. It will be a very special thrill for Cumberbatch, and the rest of the cast, to venture on stage and say those spectacular lines before an audience which doesn’t already know what goes into the king’s ear. Because that’s who Shakespeare was writing for.
I have a ticket to see the show. It’s for a live relay into my local cinema. I’ll laugh if the auditorium is full of grumbling theatre buffs stumbling into an unfamiliar surrounding - although who knows, it might introduce them to quite another art form.Reuse content