Thoughts on the Casting & Staging of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet

18 Jun

I have been giving quite a lot of thought of late to next year’s production of “Hamlet” at the Barbican with Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet.  Not just to Benedict in the role, but as to who would be my ideal casting in other roles.  Not all of the roles, but roles I see as needing good rapport between the actors.

I know Benedict will be brilliant as Hamlet.  He has an aura of brooding intensity that is just perfect for the doomed Danish prince.  My thoughts on a few other people in some of the other roles follow.

Gertrude: The role of Hamlet’s treacherous mother is an important one.  The Oedipal angst in the mother/son relationship can make or break the play.  My perfect Gertrude to Benedict’s Hamlet would be Dame Helen Mirren.  Old enough for the role, but convincingly desirable as the Shakespearean “yummy mummy”.  Failing the availability of Dame Helen, I think Dame Judi Dench would also be fantastic in the role.  We saw how good her rapport is with Benedict at Hay on Wye earlier this month.

Claudius: No offense to Sir Patrick Stewart, but please can we not see him again as Claudius?  I think he’s played Claudius as many times as Sir Derek Jacobi has played Hamlet.  I can see Roger Allam as Hamlet’s uncle/stepfather in this production.  He has the necessary mix of gravitas and sneakiness to be a wonderful Claudius.  My other choice would be Gary Oldman.  I would love to see just what he would make of the part.

Polonius: Well known as Shakespeare’s most pompous windbag.  However, without carefully handling, he can also be a frightful bore.  Polonius needs a delicate touch.  To my mind Mark Gatiss would be the perfect Polonius.  Think Mycroft without the edge of menace.  Tony Head would also make a wonderful Polonius.  Think Rupert Giles without the intelligence.

Ophelia: I know Ophelia is pivotal to the play, but the character bores me.  She and Desdemona have the dubious distinction of being Shakespeare’s wettest, most irritating, heroines.  Having said that, I would like to see what Naomi Harris, who played Elizabeth to Benedict’s Victor in “Frankenstein”, could do with the role.

Horatio: Whilst not the largest role in the play, I consider Horatio one of the most important.  He is Hamlet’s truest friend.  He never wavers in his friendship, even when Hamlet has apparently gone insane.  The strongest rapport between actors in this play has to be between those playing Hamlet and Horatio.  To that end I would like to see Martin Freeman in the role.  We know just how damn strong the rapport is between Benedict and Martin.  This is probably, however, the least likely casting, more’s the pity.

I’ve also given some thought to the staging.  I am really hoping that they don’t opt for a modern setting.  I have nothing against Shakespeare in modern settings, but it’s too soon after the RSC version with David Tennant as Hamlet.  I want Benedict to shine in his own right, not be compared endlessly to David, which is exactly what will happen if the staging is modern.

I have several suggestions about the staging:

Traditional: Stick to the doublet and hose.  At worst Benedict will be compared to Sir Derek Jacobi and Lord Olivier.

Future: All neon lights, tight leather and metal studs.  Think “Hamlet” in the world of “Blake’s 7”.  It could work.

Past: Joking with a friend when this production was first mooted, I suggested that the setting should be neolithic.  She shrieked in horror, but on further reflection it could work.  Elsinore as a cave system not a palace.  The cast clad in animal skins, and flint topped spears and clubs as weapons.

Whatever the casting and the staging, I do know that next year’s production of “Hamlet” at the Barbican will be one hell of a theatrical experience.

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