Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet and Theater Etiquette

Pretty much every UK newspaper has been reporting that Benedict Cumberbatch has made a plea, asking fans to stop filming his performance as Hamlet. Below, you can see a video of him after exiting the theater on Saturday, asking his fans to spread the news across social media that the filming is disturbing. In the video, it sounds as though he started the performance and stopped, presumably after telling someone to stop filming.

Cumberbatch is playing Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre, and tickets sold out, a year before the performances, faster than an iPhone; it was the fastest-selling theater ticket ever in London. The play is obviously benefiting from Cumberbatch’s star appeal, and, as such, bringing people to the theater who are not regular theater-goers. This is a good thing, but they seem to lack an understanding of theater etiquette; or even common sense.

Why can’t these people, who clearly spent a lot for the tickets, and, perhaps, on travel expenses, just enjoy the performance instead of wanting to have photos and videos to tweet and post on Facebook? How anyone can assume that it’s okay to film a live performance of a play with a cell phone is beyond me. I’m sure there are signs saying no photos, and probably an announcement before the play begins, asking people to turn off their devices. But the fact that many people seem to be filming and photographing the play is surprising.

I attend the theater often, though usually in the same place, here in Stratford-Upon-Avon, at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The only time I’ve ever seen anyone try and take photos – other than of an empty stage before a performance begins – was recently at the RSC’s current production of Othello. A young woman started taking pictures at the curtain call. An usher vehemently told her to stop, and, frankly, the usher was more annoying than the woman shooting photos.

But I can’t imagine anyone taking photos or filming during a performance; it’s just impolite. Even when David Tennant performed Richard II at the RSC – a production that drew a much younger audience than usual – there were no such shenanigans.

These Cumber-fans have some sense of entitlement which makes them think they can shoot and film during the play, rather than appreciate the production. Also, the lack of concern these people have for those around them is stunning. You know what it’s like when someone holds up a camera to film something; the light in a dark environment is annoying.

The Barbican Hall, where this performance is held, is a very large theater, with just under 2,000 seats. It has long rows, and must be hard to police. But Cumberbatch said, in his plea, that people would be evicted if this continues. And that will be even more disturbing. Heck, try this in a cinema; you can actually be arrested for it.

Perhaps the theater management should tell people that the production is being filmed, for broadcast to cinema on October 15. It will likely be released on DVD and Blu-Ray, after the cinema broadcasts have exhausted their audiences. So fans will be able to have a pro-shot video, instead of acting like idiots in the theater.