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Es Devlin: Critics judged Cumberbatch Hamlet ‘with its pants down’

Es Devlin collects the best set design award for The Nether at the Olivier Awards 2015. Photo: Alastair Muir Es Devlin collects the best set design award for The Nether at the Olivier Awards 2015. Photo: Alastair Muir
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Set designer Es Devlin has hit out at critics who reviewed Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch after its first previews, claiming it left her “totally devastated”.

She added that it felt “like a gentleman’s agreement had been abused”.

Both The Times and the Daily Mail published reviews of the production at the Barbican after its first preview, 20 days before press night.

Devlin said she was shocked to see reviews published during the preview period, during which time changes were still being made to the production.

“Lyndsey [Turner, the show’s director] and I walked down the Old Kent Road that night after the first two-star review came out, and we just wept. We were totally devastated. We felt that we were being judged with our pants down, working in an exposed way. Of course what we wanted to do was have that privilege to develop our craft, and we weren’t ready,” she told The Stage.

Devlin added: “It felt like a gentleman’s agreement had been abused, like that’s not done. Their argument was that people were paying full price, so we felt caught in the crossfire.”

Devlin was speaking at the 2016 WhatsOnStage Awards, where she picked up the best set design prize for her work on the production. Cumberbatch won best actor for his performance, while the show also won best play revival and best lighting.

Devlin went on to praise the production for bringing in new audiences to theatre.

“These are people who bought tickets because they’re fans of Benedict. They might not normally come to the theatre. It was a different quality of audience. It’s more like the kind of audiences I get in rock’n’roll, where they’ve saved for months to get their ticket, they’ve probably travelled, and queued up outside and all they bring is good intention,” she said.

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