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Saturday, 10 October 2009 15:00

Broadway Review: "Hamlet" Starring Jude Law

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Jude Law in Hamlet
Jude Law in Hamlet
Photo: Johan Persson

It’s hard to imagine Jude Law more exquisite in the role of Hamlet.  Conversely, it’s hard to imagine him being paired with a more sedentary and unmoving cast.  Law combines a physicality and a vocal quality and range that is unmatched by the rest of the cast.  Most actors use of such broad physicality would be accused in actors’ parlance of “telegraphing,” but not Law.  He makes use of broad physical comedy and sarcasm as he teases out the truth behind his father’s murder and sets about avenging it.  Law’s Hamlet is pissed, really pissed.  Who could blame him if he leans a wee bit on the side of melodrama.

The ghost of Hamlet’s father tells Hamlet that it was his brother Claudius who killed him.  This is the same brother who has succeeded the throne and stolen his dead brother’s wife.  Hamlet is intent on revenge but not before finding out if the ghost he has seen is a good and true ghost or a bad ghost who is deceiving him.  To get to the bottom of things Hamlet has a visiting theatrical troupe enact the events as he understands them in front of his uncle and mother and watches his uncle’s reaction to the play to learn the truth.  Once Claudius stomps out of the performance Hamlet has his affirmation that it was indeed his uncle who killed his father.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jude Law in Hamlet
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jude Law in Hamlet
Photo: Johan Persson

Jude Law’s performance is so significantly superior to that of the rest of the cast that by comparison they are relegated to living, breathing props.  Geraldine James as Hamlet’s mother Gertrude could have saved herself the trip across the pond and just phoned in her performance for all Its enthusiasm and emotional intensity.  Kevin R. McNally as his uncle Claudius comes off so pompous that when he does actually seek forgiveness for his sins it’s hardly believable. 

The only actor who seemed to be able to rise to Law’s performance was that of Gwilym Lee as Laertes, the aggrieved son of Polonius who Hamlet has accidentally killed, thinking it was his uncle.  He handles the role with an intensity that almost matches Law’s Hamlet.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Polonius’ daughter (and Laertes’ sister)  Ophelia is so meek and low energy in the performance as to be most ineffectual.  Ophelia is Hamlet’s spurned love interest who goes mad upon the death of her father.

The play is set in Elsinore Castle in Denmark (where this Donmar transfer production actually played five performances).  The set by Christopher Oram (who also did the costumes) is rather bland but utilitarian.  Neil Austin’s gorgeous lighting, however, transforms the set and creates a number of particularly lovely looks.  That said, I’m surprised that director Michael Grandage (the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse) didn’t utilize Mr. Austin’s skills more for the appearance of Hamlet’s dead father.  The ghost rather nonchalantly appears on stage as though trudging in from stage right.  It seems there could have been a more dramatic reveal of the ghost.  It happens again with his appearance in the second act.

So while I was left cold by the majority of the cast, luckily Law had the majority of the lines.  My recommendation is get thee to the Broadhurst to see Hamlet if only for Law’s performance.  He’s a fine looking specimen who looks great in Oram’s form-fitting modern costumes.  His performance makes Shakespeare particularly accessible and enjoyable.  You will leave sated. 

Hamlet  is playing at the Broadhurst Theatre through December 6 only.  Get tickets.

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Read the full production credits at the Internet Broadway Database.

Review roundup:

Michael Kuchwara – Associated Press   “Law has marched fearlessly through one of the great roles in dramatic literature - maybe the greatest - and done a a credible job in making it his own.”

Ben Brantley  for The New York Times  - “If Hamlet talks about his mind, you can bet that Mr. Law will point to his forehead; when he mentions the heavens, his arm shoots straight up; and when the guy says his gorge rises, rest assured that he clutches at his stomach. If every actor were like Mr. Law, signed performances for the hard of hearing would be unnecessary.”

Elysa Gardner for USA Today - "Grandage's Hamlet (* * * * out of four), which opened Tuesday at the Broadhurst Theatre, is pure enough to satisfy the most reactionary scholar. It's also as brave, beautiful and robustly exciting a reading of this play as you're likely to see."

Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News - "CAN A MOVIE STAR on the stage transcend his film performances and even rise above the gossip pages? The answer is yes when it comes to Jude Law, who's giving a spine-tingling and richly layered performance in a new version of "Hamlet" that makes you forget about his past roles and bad-boy melodramas."

Last modified on Thursday, 10 December 2009 21:37