Review - Hamlet

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Contemporary black costumes for the whole cast? Check.

Imposing, but minimalist, set? You got it.

Annoying side-lighting that keeps the actors in shadows for most of act one? It's in there.

Aggressive, sexy, darkly humorous performance by the title character? Oh, yeah.

If you're a frequent theatre-goer who has seen a decent number of Hamlets, or just a decent number of contemporary Shakespeare productions, chances are you'll get that old feeling of déjà vu watching Michael Grandage's Donmar Warehouse import, now parked at the Broadhurst for a limited run. While the mounting has its highs and lows, several directorial choices - once considered edgy, now pretty standard - keep this Hamlet draped in familiarity. The evening is lean, professional, fast-moving and not particularly interesting.

As the young prince seeking revenge for the murder of his father, Jude Law is certainly no melancholy baby. His attention-grabbing presence commands the stage in an actorly way that stresses vengefulness, eloquence, athleticism and an arrogant, though not especially effective, wit. (Does he really need to impersonate the animal when suggesting that the king keeps Rosencrantz and Guildenstern around, "as an ape doth nuts...?") What's missing is any kind of vulnerability or hesitancy that would add some realistic textures. It's doubtful that the Prince of Denmark goes around avenging murders every day, but this Hamlet seems a fearless professional at it.

Grandage surrounds the star with an acceptable supporting cast, highlighted by Ron Cook's irritatingly intellectual Polonius and wryly comic gravedigger, Peter Eyre's richly-voiced elegance as both the ghost of Hamlet's father and the Player King and Gwilym Lee's aggressive and energized Laertes. On the other hand, Kevin R. McNally's Claudius could use some emotional punch and Gugu Mbatha-Raw's barely audible Ophelia hardly registers.

The tall and thick walls of Christopher Oram's set appropriately suggest the title character's reference to Denmark as a prison, but combined with his almost uniformly black costumes (it's a clever move when The Players, in performance, wear white) and Neil Austin's frequently dim lighting (the actors are significantly more visible in the second half), the design is more frustratingly alienating than mood enhancing. Sadly, aside from a handful of performances, that seems to be a consistent theme with this Hamlet.

Photo of Peter Eyre and Jude Law by Johann Persson.

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From This Author Kristin Salaky