Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Hey Jude, Why So Glum? You're Terrific - Hamlet - Play Review

Hamlet - Donmar in the West End - Wyndham Theatre - London, UK - **** (out of 5)
Written by Williams Shakespeare, Directed by Michael Grandage
Runs in London until Aug. 22, Moves to Kronberg Castle, Elsinore, Denmark from Aug 25-30, Transfers to
Broadway, previews being Sept. 16, Opens Oct. 6, until Dec. 6 2009

I bought my tickets for Donmar's Hamlet over a year and a half ago and so I was damned if I wasn't going to like it. Still, I've had a precarious relationship with Shakespeare's tragedies since I was forced to only read the tragedies at my Catholic all-boys high school (heaven knows what would have happened if you let boys read the lighter comedies, god forbid (literally)). However, somehow, I managed to miss reading Hamlet (I skipped a year) and I've never actually seen it performed. So considering I was still confused while watching the last Macbeth on Broadway (and it's one of the plays I have a better knowledge of, with a critically acclaimed production that I admired but as time has passed, liked less and less), I was a little worried about following. Oh well, at least there's Jude Law to look/drool at right?

Well, not just drool. Luckily, Michael Grandage's new production of Hamlet is anchored by Jude Law who isn't just pulling a movie star make-me-legit-via-theatre move, and instead, is a terrifically engaging, emotionally complex Hamlet that never loses our attention and carefully guides us through his turmoil and the play as a whole. While I have no other actor to compare him to, Law's incredible performance balanced the emotional subtleties while playing it big enough to fully understand it all through Shakespeare's text. I always understood exactly what Law's Hamlet was talking about and what he felt through the rawness of his sweaty face AND body language that looks like it's holding the weight of the world.

Law had previously been in the Royal Shakespeare Company and has had many theatre credits to back him up and the early training truly shows. This isn't just a movie star vanity piece, it's truly a remarkable performance.

I loved the simplicity of the cold stark stage that hints of Elsinor Castle (designed by Christopher Oram) and the lighting design (by Neil Austin) wonderfully changes up the single set into different spaces while keeping with the changing drama unfolding.

Most of the rest of the cast that surrounds Law offer nice support. A few exceptions though including Alex Waldman's Laertes who starts off nicely but in the second half, seems immune to any changes of emotions, despite the surrounding tragedies revolving around him. And while it may be part of the character, I wasn't fond of Penelope Wilton's Gertrude who seemed altogether in a different play than the other actors (though my friend told me that it does sort of fit the character, so maybe it was just me). (Wilton will be one of 3 performers not transferring with the company to New York).

The direction and lighting are sharp but the show is really worth watching for Jude Law's terrific Hamlet.

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