Cumberbatch fans cause ticket frenzy

Benedict Cumberbatch (centre) rehearses for his role as the title character in London theatre production Hamlet.
Benedict Cumberbatch (centre) rehearses for his role as the title character in London theatre production Hamlet.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

LONDON • If Benedict Cumberbatch was going to play Hamlet, they were going to be there.

Ms Ayako Nemoto, 37, from Tokyo, said she could not get through online, so she called the Barbican, the theatre where he would be performing, 72 times before reaching the box office.

Ms Courtney Bowden, 19, from New Zealand, said she was conquering a fear of flying to get to London. Ms Sabrina Baribeau, 18, from Quebec, said she was bringing her grandmother, who is trying to learn English for the occasion.

The most fortunate and determined members of the global village of Cumberbatch fans are about to descend on Britain for what many view as the theatrical event of their lifetimes.

Cumberbatch's appearance as Hamlet, in a 12-week run that begins on Wednesday and ends on Oct 31, is easily the most anticipated event of the London theatrical season.

Its lead producer, Sonia Friedman, said she believed it was the fastest-selling play in British history, with its advance seats going within hours.

Cumberbatch, 39, is an unlikely superstar known for his repertoire of awkward prodigies, including detective Sherlock Holmes in the television series Sherlock and mathematician Alan Turing in the 2014 film The Imitation Game.

In a review of the movie, New York Times critic A.O. Scott noted Cumberbatch's "curious ability to suggest cold detachment and acute sensitivity at the same time".

"If he did not exist, 21st-century popular culture would have to invent him: a sentient robot, an empathetic space alien, a warm- blooded salamander with crazy sex appeal."

Cumberbatch is no stranger to the stage - his recent roles included Frankenstein at the National Theatre here - but since his previous performances, the passion of his fan base has only intensified, driven by women who use Twitter, Tumblr and multiple other tools to share news, photographs and commentary about him.

Led by British theatre director Lyndsey Turner, this Hamlet is being developed with extraordinary secrecy - none of the principals would agree to speak about it, the only photographs released show the cast rehearsing in street clothes, and posters for the project feature not Cumberbatch but a small boy.

Hamlet, of course, is one of the great theatrical roles and has been played by stars from Laurence Olivier to Jude Law.

But the combination of the limited run, Cumberbatch's devoted fan base and internationalisation of commerce via the Internet has made this Hamlet an unusually tough ticket.

"People are coming from Japan, from Russia, planning on meeting up in groups," said Ms Naomi Roper, a 37-year-old lawyer in London who runs Cumberbatchweb, a popular site that tracks the actor's projects.

"Some of them are not only new to Shakespeare, but also first-time theatregoers - I've had lots of questions about dress codes and that kind of thing."

Most of the seats were sold at full price last summer, most through an online system, with prices ranging from £30 to £62.50 (between S$64 and S$133.70). Some fans spent as much as £100 for top-level memberships to get first crack at tickets.

A block of discounted tickets was sold last month in an online lottery. A final opportunity will be made available throughout the production: Thirty tickets will be offered each day to those in line.

And the production will be broadcast in movie theatres around the world on Oct 15.

For many fans, though, seeing Hamlet in person is the only way to go. Ms Eleanor Thibeaux, 28, of Oakland, California, said she and her friends were flying to London to try for tickets through the lottery.

"If we get in, awesome," she said. "If not, we'll just go to Munich and drown our sorrows at Oktoberfest."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'Cumberbatch fans cause ticket frenzy'. Print Edition | Subscribe