To film or not to film, shouldn’t even be a question

Oh, Benedict Cumberbatch. As if we didn’t love you enough already.

Exactly a year ago today, I’d just triumphantly completed my booking for Hamlet at the Barbican, after several hours monitoring multiple browsers and waiting impatiently to make my way up from 8,000th in the queue to number 1.

I won’t be seeing Hamlet until September, but a lucky few already have; the production finally opened for previews at the Barbican last week… and it’s already making headlines.

First, there were all the fans who flew in from across the world to catch a glimpse of their idol, whether they had tickets for the play or were just hoping to spot him outside the theatre.

Then there was the controversy caused by the Times, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, who published reviews based on the first preview, rather than waiting until press night like everyone else. (If we can really use the word ‘review’ to describe Jan Moir’s gushing report, which included illicit and poor quality photos, and totally ignored the rest of the cast. Who knew Hamlet was a one-man show…?)

And now Benedict Cumberbatch himself has made a special stage door appearance to plead with fans not to record during the play. Which really should be common sense – but apparently isn’t.

Personally, I don’t understand why anyone would want to record a live performance. Doesn’t that sort of negate the whole ‘live’ part? If you’re watching it through your phone, then you’re not really watching it, and even if you view your video again later, it’s hardly the same thing. It’ll probably be pretty poor quality, and a bit wobbly, and the sound won’t be great, and you’ll realise, too late, that maybe you should have watched it live in the first place. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see Hamlet next month, I want to remember watching and experiencing the play – I don’t want to remember filming it.

Then there’s the fact that it’s really distracting – for people sitting nearby, and, more importantly, for the actors. It always amazes me how many theatregoers don’t realise that when their phone lights up, they’re not the only person who can see the glow, especially in a dark theatre.

And finally, there’s the all-important question of respect. The actors on stage – any stage – have worked for months to prepare for this performance; it’s not like they’ve just rocked up on the day like we have. So don’t we owe it to them to sit quietly, pay attention and listen? And if not, there doesn’t seem much point in going to the theatre at all – we might as well just wait for the inevitable DVD version.

I don’t honestly know if this latest appeal is going to have any impact (neither Kevin Spacey nor James McAvoy seem to have had much luck getting people to put their phones away), and I’m willing to bet most of the fans who were at the stage door, and – ironically – recording, were more excited to have seen Benedict Cumberbatch than interested in what he was actually saying. But hopefully the fact that the video’s gone viral will at least get people to consider the issue, and think about why it’s so inconsiderate. We live in a generation that’s programmed to take photos first and look later – but there’s a time and a place for that, and the theatre is neither.

We’ve all waited a long time for this, so let’s not ruin the experience – for the actors, for the audience or for ourselves.

Hamlet at the Barbican

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