|National Theatre Live: Coming to a cinema near you. / |
Benedict Cumberbatch in "Hamlet."
Ever wanted to experience the best of British theatre without having to trek to London? Now you can, thanks to National Theatre Live, where all the world's a stage even if the stage is on a big movie screen.
One night recently, my wife and I drove to the Century 14 cineplex in downtown Walnut Creek, Calif., about a half-hour's drive from our East Bay home, where we thrilled to an enjoyable evening of London West End theatre come alive on the big screen.
For just $20 a ticket, we were treated to the National Theatre Live's cinematic presentation of the critically-acclaimed "Hamlet," Lyndsey Turner's monumental Barbican production of the 1603 iconic William Shakespeare play about the melancholy prince of Denmark, that was broadcast to a global audience of more than 225,000 on 1,400 movie theater screens in 25 countries around the world.
I was one of those near quarter-million experiencing one of the greatest moments of theatre I had ever experienced. Yet, what I was watching was more a film than a play, but without any compromise to the live appeal of theatre.
That total represents the largest global audience for a live broadcast of any title in National Theatre Live history. Not to worry if you missed out on the excitement. Additional encores of "Hamlet" are scheduled to be shown in movie theaters later this month.
Since its debut in 2009, among the National Theatre Live presentations beamed to theaters include: "Frankenstein" with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating between the title role and Dr. Jekyll; "King Lear," produced by Sam Mendes; and "A Streetcar Named Desire," which starred Gillian Anderson.
Throughout, "Hamlet" had plenty of "visual swagger" and, of course, there was an infinitely touching prince, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, whom U.S. audiences have grown to love from his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock" on PBS's Masterpiece.
"If there's one good thing about the avalanche of hype surrounding the (Hamlet) production, it's that it made Shakespeare seem sexy. That's quite a feat," wrote Lyn Gardner in The Guardian, one of London's pre-eminent newspapers and news websites.
"The production has been accused by several critics of being overly cinematic, but its visual swagger, with its indigo hues, 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 a theatre," added Gardner.
On the night we watched "Hamlet" -- October 15 -- the audience was comprised mostly of middle-aged suburban adults. There were the curious fans like us, who were eager to see Cumberbatch tackle the title role of Hamlet -- both as a prep-school misfit and as a toy soldier -- and to embrace and enjoy outstanding theatre. In addition to Cumberbatch, there were stellar performances given by Ciarán Hinds as Claudius and Sian Brooke as Ophelia.
The only thing missing that would have made our night more complete -- and something that makes attending West End theatre unique to an American -- was a vendor selling ice cream cups in the stalls during intermission.
Seeing National Theatre Live's "Hamlet" reinvented for a 21st Century audience reminded me of this: "Hamlet" needs to be seen and not just heard. And, seeing a larger-than-life Cumberbatch up-close and personal for three hours added up to one hell of a wonderful night of theatre on the big screen.
Photo: Courtesy of Google Images.