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Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet: Phones or No Phones? That Is the Question

2nd October 2015

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After eight weeks on stage Benedict Cumberbatch's reign as Hamlet is proceeding into its final month. The performance has received mixed reviews and Cumberbatch has been the recipient of criticism for his suggested ignorance to modern technology.

The unforgettable video that flooded onto social media just four days after the opening show set the tone for the whole audience experience for Lyndsey Turner's adaptation of Hamlet. In his message to fans and theatre-goers Cumberbatch made it clear that he did not wish to be filmed or have a recording device in sight during the performace.

The Sherlock actor, although seeming rather riled, politely asked his fans to not continue filiming his performance as it was "mortifying"He elucidated how there is "nothing that's less supportive or enjoyable as an actor on stage experiencing that"

I attended a performance of Hamlet on 14th August, a week after Cumberbatch had made his plea, and yet there were still people sneakily attempting to film the perfromance. The question I procrastinate on is whether Cumberbatch was right to ask for no filming or whether he should have considered the prospect that his fans just wanted to be as close to him as possible and that in a culture where technology is prevalent the filming and photographing of the show was inevitable. 

I personally chose not to film or photograph any of the performance. When enterning the auditorium stewards politely asked everyone to switch off their mobile phones and any other electronic devices and not turn them back on until they had left the theatre. I chose to respect this regulation and fully immerse myself into the play without any added distractions.

The concept of filming during any theatre experience is one I find nonsensical, but particularly during such a famous and classic play where actors and crew have attempted to adjust the adaptation to compliment a modern day audience; I find that even more inexplicable. As I looked to my left on the row in front a group of young women were watching the play, clearly Cumberbatch fans. However, I noticed one of them had her phone out, on and filming throughout a large proportion of the play. Seeing this somewhat vexed me as I felt it a huge disrespect to all actors on stage. When the curtain went up the set was revealed and I personally had my breath taken away it was that spectacular. Then the perfomance began with acting which was equally spectacular. However, a percentage of the audience's natural reaction to this is to get out their phones or cameras and start filming. It, to some extent, feels as though we have lost the ability to just connect with a performance without projecting every aspect of it onto social media. 

The performance itself was magnificent. From the actors, the set, the costumes and just the whole depiction of Hamlet, every aspect I personally thought was absolutely wonderful. Although the notion of "Hamlet in a hoodie" has received mixed reviews from critics I thought it seemed a very clever way to illustrate Hamlet to a modern day audience, stripping away his status and portraying him as a lost and tortured soul allowing the audience to give full empathy to him.

Although I can see the issue some people may have had, if the play itself is contemporary why are Cumberbatch's views on filming a little antiquated? Personally I do not see them this way; I believe there is certain etiquette to obtain when attending the theatre and that this unfortunately is lost on some people. However, it is evident why some fans appeared displeased about not being able to film their favourite star, they just wanted to get closer to him and in a modern day culture the youth do this via technology and social media. 

In spite of this somewhat annoynace for fans I still stand by the notion that to film during a theatre performance is unacceptable and that Cumberbatch had every right to express upset about this. It seems quite poignant that today as a society we cannot simply enjoy a performance. Benedict asserted that he wanted the audience to enjoy a live performance in their "minds and brains whether it's good, bad or indifferent" rather than watching it through their phone screens and social media later.

This proposes the concept that we are now in a culture of technological dependance and that for some it is difficult to put their phone down for two hours and revel in a theatre performance. I personally worry that this will threaten the tradition and practice of the theatre, ruining experiences for other viewers and actors. This could therefore threaten the knowledge we as a society obtain of classic plays such as Hamlet, as the audience are somewhat oblivious to the truly remarkable content of the play and the way it is being portrayed. Their intent focus is to capture the stars on camera to put onto social media later - not to fully enjoy and engage with the performance, remembering it with just their own senses rather than, as Cumberbatch described, their "funny electronic things". 

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