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Audrey Kupferberg: London Stage

With so many exciting events going on in London’s West End theater scene, Benedict Cumberbatch has been grabbing the headlines.  His star turn as HAMLET at London’s Barbican Centre has been drawing attention for the past few weeks. 

The publicity machine actually went into action a year ago this month when Cumberbatch’s HAMLET became the fastest show in history to sell out.  Some accounts say tickets sold in just a few hours; other accounts state it was a matter of minutes. 

More recent media buzz has centered on the unruliness of the audiences, how many of Cumberbatch’s fans—some of whom have been dubbed the Cumberbitches, although that term seems to be growing stale—are recording the play from their seats on various electronic devices.   A few days ago, Cumber-batch drew press attention when he addressed his fans outside the Barbican to tell them that the red lights of the recording devices were apt to disrupt his concentration in acting the challenging role.

Cumberbatch is now in his late thirties, and he is regarded as one of the most talented actors of the English-speaking stage and screen.  Isn’t it about time he discouraged the brash behavior of his over-zealous groupies?  One silly distraction which stresses the immaturity of Cumberbatch as a personality is an online video called “Benedict Cumberbatch’s Wet Dress Shirt Contest,” released last February and sponsored by Vanity Fair.  In it, Cumberbatch appears in full dress suit and makes subtle movements in a natural setting, including a bit of undressing as a male stripper might do.  Sure, it is an entertaining video, but much too narcissistic. He needs to move towards more mature behavior.

Benedict, listen to me.  If you want to be taken seriously as Hamlet, stop catering to the Cumberbitches and play it straight.  Press night for HAMLET is August 26, when professional reviewers from London and around the world will gather at the Barbican to judge the merit of his acting and the overall production.

National Theatre Live will broadcast this production of HAMLET live to cinemas later this year. 

Meanwhile, London has a host of brilliant actors in their mid-to-late thirties who are in solid productions.  Ben Wishaw, who has captivated audiences in the film LILTING and BBC series THE HOUR, as well as in a small part in SKYFALL, appears in an edgy staging of a Euripides tragedy.  It is called BAKKHAI and has been playing at the AlmeidaTheatre.  As Dionysus “son of Zeus, born by a lightning bolt,” he displays great passion, intellect, and controlled anger.  His appearance is gender-bending and his acting is electric.

ChiwetelEjiofor, who amazed in 12 YEARS A SLAVE, has been playing the title role in a modern version of EVERYMAN at the National Theatre.  His performance is so powerful that it knocks the wind out of its audiences. 

Samuel Barnett, who theater-goers will remember from THE HISTORY BOYS, and the recent acclaimed productions of RICHARD III and TWELFTH NIGHT, is appearing in an 18th Century comedy at the National Theatre—THE BEAUX’ STRATAGEM. Great fun!

The London stage offers such a variety of theater, from cutting-edge dramas to the traditional productions.  This summer has been a virtual feast! 

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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