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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
HAMLET
at The Broadhurst

TO BE PROVED MOST ROYAL
By ROBERT CASHILL

  Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jude Law in the Donmar Warehouse production of Hamlet/ Ph: Johan Persson

In a theatergoer’s life, there are three inevitabilities: death, taxes, and Hamlet. Last season brought at least two, Christian Camargo in a well-received Theatre for a New Audience production and Michael Stuhlbarg outdoors at the Delacorte. Stuhlbarg went from Shakespeare in the Park to a starring role in the new Coen brothers film A Serious Man. Making the opposite trek, from screen to stage, is Jude Law, whose movie career has gone mad north-northwest. The play’s the thing; Law has rebooted his reputation with this Donmar West End production, which after a successful London run has crossed the pond.
 
Law is the first Broadway Hamlet since Ralph Fiennes’ Tony-winning triumph in the 1994-1995 season, which, coincidentally, was the same season the actor received a Tony nomination for Indiscretions. His Dane is anything but melancholy, and Law, constrained in a run of film flops, appears liberated by the challenge. In clothes that look to have been purchased at Old Navy—this prince is unpretentious—he lights up Christopher Oram’s imposing castle set with a dashingly physical performance and is the funniest Hamlet in recent memory. (Somewhere in the cosmos the Bard surely smiles when actors get laughs from his 400-year-old lines.) It would take something truly rotten to lower his natural high spirits, and we connect with his pain as the seeds of doubt are planted. Law speaks beautifully; more importantly, he brings flesh and blood to the soliloquies. When, rapier drawn, he leaps into action for the doom-ridden end, it’s a thrilling spectacle.
 
Shaking off the mildew from the debacle that was The Philanthropist last season, director Michael Grandage returns to the level of Mary Stuart and Frost/Nixon, with a production that’s as briskly paced as any Hamlet can be. Law isn’t alone up there; Ron Cook’s amusingly officious Polonius and the hangdog-faced Peter Eyre, a chilly Ghost and an excellent Player King, offer stalwart support, as do Matt Ryan’s Horatio and Gwilym Lee’s Laertes. Frailty, alas, thy name is woman. Though attractively outfitted by Oram, the usually fine Geraldine James is rather subdued as Gertrude, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is more attractive than affecting as Ophelia.
 
Hamlet is one greatest hit after another; an indifferent production can usually just get by. But Grandage has staged it robustly. Oram, lighting designer Neil Austin, and composer and sound designer Adam Cork achieve a true coup-de-theatre in the murder of Polonius, staged from an unusual vantage point that will catch even veteran Hamlet watchers off-guard. There are, however, no gimmicks here—Law has earned his crown fairly, and if it’s difficult to call him a Hamlet for the ages at this time, he’s more than likely to be the one for the season in New York.

 


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