The much awaited production of Hamlet staring Benedict Cumberbatch which opened to mixed reviews has caused a number of stirs in the theatrical world. Videos of the Sherlock star addressing his fans at the stage door went viral, and hordes of individuals continue to wait in the hope of picking up one of the few tickets available each day of the performance. This production certainly had a lot of hype to live up to. However, the most interesting moment concerning this production was, I felt, the backlash against The Times‘ Kate Maltby, a critic who viewed the production on the first of a number of preview nights at the very start of its run at The Barbican. Her criticisms of the production led to uproar as many involved in the production resented her choice to review a show still in its earlier stages.
As much as it is very true that a preview is meant to be a safe time when a production can find its feet and experiment, it is not all together such a bad thing that the production received this criticism early on. Since the publication of the review the famous “To be, or not to be” monologue has been returned to its original place in act three for example. While the presence of critics was not expected during this first preview, all opinions, whether they be good or bad, can help a production improve, ready for its ‘official’ opening night. As someone who is very much involved in the arts, I can honestly say that criticism and praise are equally helpful in the early stages of a production. If the criticisms of a preview performance are shunned purely because a production is in its initial stages then there is little point in even having a season of previews.
The job of a critic is to be objective, to sidestep the hype around a production, and to look at it with a critical eye. Whether or not Cumberbatch is a much loved star at the moment does not affect the quality of both his performance and the production itself. If people are willing to read reviews in praise of something, they must be willing to accept the criticism, and then possibly take the criticisms on board for future performances.
If everyone always conformed and had the same positive opinions as everyone else there would be no art and no need to reform, evolve, or experiment. ‘Art’ itself would become a benign concept. It’s all about honesty and a willingness to listen. Whether or not this production lives up the hype is down to each audience member to decide, the important thing to remember is that resentment is never the answer. A theatrical production is an ever evolving thing, from the first rehearsal to closing night a thousand things can change, but when you present it to an audience you do so fully aware of the risks you take; you must be willing to accept the criticisms along with the praise. I wish the company the best of luck for their future performances.
Hamlet directed by Lyndsey Turner is at The Barbican until the 31st of October