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Review Roundup: HAMLET Starring Ruth Negga at St. Anns Warehouse -What Did the Critics Think?


Academy Award nominee Ruth Negga is currently making her American theatrical debut in a passionate, critically acclaimed portrayal of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, directed by Yael Farber and featuring an ensemble of leading Irish actors. With Farber's direction, the focus moves from Hamlet's anguish and identity to the power of resistance against treachery and the raw usurpation of power. The production, which began on February 1, 2020, was extended for an additional week, and will now play through March 8, 2020.

An ensemble of leading Irish actors joins Negga in the production, including Fiona Bell, Gavin Drea, Aoife Duffin, Nick Dunning, Peter Gaynor, Steve Hartland, Mark Huberman, Will Irvine, Gerard Kelly, Barry McKiernan, Shane O'Reilly, Owen Roe, and Gerard Walsh.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Negga's Hamlet is never happier than when he's masterminding such snares of illusions. That is, until he remembers why he's doing what he's doing to begin with. And beneath it all, always, lurks the awareness of death. Negga's quicksilver performance keeps recalibrating all these levels of reaction.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Negga's take on the Dane rivets because it's so unique. But after the thrilling fiasco that is "The Mousetrap," with Hamlet not killing Claudius (Owen Roe) and then killing Polonius (Nick Dunning) by mistake, the supporting actors fail to engage in scenes when Negga disappears from the stage, as Hamlets are prone to do in the play's second half. Except for Gaynor's powerful Claudius and Aoife Duffin's very grating Ophelia, they lack Negga's idiosyncratic energy, and, in the end, deliver standard-issue performances that wouldn't be out of place in the most ordinary of "Hamlet" productions.

Matt Windman, AM NY: Let's talk about Negga, whose fresh and nimble take on Hamlet brings to mind an acutely sensitive young boy, who begins in a state of agonizing grief and ventures into Peter Pan-like jollity. She is physically and vocally distinct from the rest of the cast, which makes sense for Hamlet - and makes one wonder why Hamlet is not played by a woman more often.

Allison Adato, Entertainment Weekly: Negga is slight of frame - it surely does not take those two burly guards to hold this prince back from the Danish cliffs. Wide-eyed and baby-faced, Negga's Hamlet is boyish. Making an asset of her appearance, she leans into this portrayal of a bereft young man as a put-upon millennial, a choice that works well to explain Hamlet's indecision and inaction. She is particularly successful with an ironic reading of the "what a piece of work is man" monologue, but also handy at delivering the cutting insults of his mother and stepfather/uncle; this Hamlet is both grieving and aggrieved. The sullen huffing was perhaps less welcome when Hamlet groans at having mistakenly murdered Polonius, a moment that elicited an awkward laugh.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: A large part of what makes Ruth Negga such a distinctive screen presence, in films like Loving and Ad Astra, is the emotional transparency she brings to characterizations notable for their meticulous physical composure. There's no such stillness in her bristling American stage debut, a thrilling plunge into the title role in South African director Yaël Farber's probing reinvestigation of Hamlet, which skips the expected gender dissection to focus instead on the corrosive anguish of a protagonist torn between the primal urge for vengeance and the intense contemplation that his fierce intelligence demands. The take-home here is not that of a female actor playing Hamlet but simply an extraordinary actor.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: There's an argument to be made for starting and finishing the action focused on the most dynamic character-and does anyone miss Fortinbras anyway?-but this Hamlet moves slower than your average gravedigger. It clocks in at nearly three and a half hours, including intermission. Three and a half heavy, dry ice-laden hours. Set and costume designer Susan Hilferty (Wicked) brings a bit of lightness to the proceedings-e.g., following the Ghost around the stage with a floaty tarp that resembles a giant American Beauty plastic bag.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: In her black suit with white shirt slightly indicating a flattened bosom, Negga more than anything comes across as the court tomboy. To her credit, she doesn't go in for altering her natural vocal timbre. On the other hand and possibly to affect masculine seriousness, she speaks her soliloquies not trippingly on the tongue but with such deliberation she alone might be lengthening the production's playing time.

David Cote, Observer: Still, it's a testament to the force and grace of Negga's prodigious prince that, days later, I'm Fantasy Footballing her into a different company. Michael Shannon's Claudius? Check. Toni Collette as Gertrude? Yass! Zendaya as Ophelia? Why not! The world probably gets a new Hamlet every 3.5 minutes; but rarely one with "that unmatched form and feature of blown youth," as Ophelia sighs. And we, like besotted schoolkids, sigh with her.

Helen Shaw, Vulture: So Negga carries the show-or, rather, she tows it behind her. The brooding mise-en-scène is a black hole, but she never stops pouring energy into it: she shines, pouts, smiles, grabs people by the shirtfront, prowls, crab-walks, dances, and flings herself onto the floor. The combination of her tininess (at one point she hides behind an armchair by just slightly inclining her head) and her eager, put-me-in-Coach physicality makes her Hamlet a particularly young one: This sweet prince is only just past the teenage tantrum stage, still prey to swift moods and triumphant sulks.

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