… a two man show …
Sometimes theater goers will say of classic plays, “I saw The Seagull — or A Doll’s House — or Hamlet — recently, I’m just not ready to see another one”. Fair enough, but Jude Law puts such a distinctive mark on Hamlet that, believe me, you haven’t seen this, ever.
His Hamlet is a younger man than most seem to be (regardless of the actor’s age). His performance is athletic, unquestionably charismatic (the audience applauds after every great scene like after an aria in an opera), and openly vulnerable. He listens to others intensely, and his words, thoughts and actions come as genuine responses flowing from within — the script falls away and Shakespeare’s character emerges as a real, conflicted, engaged man. He’s all over the stage. He gives himself completely, with a great actor’s generosity, to the performance.
Law does full justice to the astonishing poetry without any archaic distance to separate us from the language — we hear the way he talks. In this he’s helped by the production’s unobtrusive modern dress that underscores the play’s timelessness. You hardly notice whether the actors are wearing Elizabethan costumes or not.
The youthfulness of this Hamlet lays an interesting slant on his tangled involvement with his mother, his father, and the saturated sexuality of his mother’s new marriage to his murdered father’s brother. “Why doesn’t he kill Claudius?” “What’s his problem?” To the many answers to that central puzzle, Law brings what seems to me a new take — though a man physically, he’s still somehow a boy living at home caught up in youthful conflicts. The care with which he listens to others and himself suggests he’s still formative. He’s not yet ready for the burden that’s placed on him.
If only the rest of the actors were as good as Law! They are uniformly routine stereotypes in the way they play their characters (Claudius, Gertrude), some seem to be thinking about something else (Horatio), some are strained (Ophelia) and some are downright dull (Laertes). They mostly spring from London’s Donmar Warehouse theater that has a big reputation, simply not lived up to in this production.
All the weight of the play is on two men’s shoulders — Jude Law and Shakespeare. Luckily they’re both in brilliant form!
Hamlet plays at the Broadhurst Theater, 44th Street West of Broadway, through December 6.
p.s. How interesting that two film actors created two outstanding Shakespearean characters this year — Jude Law as Hamlet, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago in Othello, reviewed by me here.
We all seem to have had a very similar reaction. Jude Law is overall my favorite Hamlet ever–stage or film. Yes, he speaks the lines lovingly and beautifully. His energy is terrific–physical AND mental. He makes you see how intelligent Hamlet is. You can see Hamlet getting ideas, reacting to the moments as they come. And more than any other actor I’ve seen, Jude Law shows how much (as the play gives us to understand) Hamlet admires and understands acting, what a quick, clever and funny actor he himself is. I wish the Ophelia were stronger–I actually think she’s terrible.… Read more »
It was a wonderful understandable Hamlet both he clarity of the diction- not strained and the perceived vulnerability of Hamlet – an extraordinarily rewarding evening . Other than Ron Cook as Polonius / Grave digger the rest of the cast was dull, the poorest performance was that of Mbatha-Raw’s Ophelia – she was barely audible in the third row and not convincing. All said and done –well worth seeing this production.
I agree and I’m wondering, Dolores and Neohyte, when you say it in London, did the audience clap after particularly scenes as they did when I saw it? The way people clap after a great aria in opera? I’ve never seen that happen in theater, and I’d really like to know. Yvonne
i saw jude perform hamlet in london and am flying to new york to see him again as the melancholy dane. i was absolutely blown away by his performance. who knew that he had this in him. one of the greatest performances i have ever seen.
The way you write, “There is a Pan-like dancer’s grace to him that makes him very young and vulnerable” so hits the nail on the head it gives me a great feeling! That is marvelously put. And I do agree with the points you make … Michael Cumpsty was a wonderful Hamlet recently at Classic Stage, off-Broadway in NYC … but yes, this was original and … “the watermark for many a Hamlet in years to come…” I’ll go along with that! Yvonne
I saw Law’s Hamlet not on Broadway but on a preview night of its London run. Even then Jude Law was phenomenal. There is a Pan-like dancer’s grace to him that makes him very young and vulnerable. He is definitely the best thing about this production and in my opinion, his performance will be the watermark for many a Hamlet in years to come. I was disappointed with the actors playing Gertrude, Ophelia and Laertes in London (Penelope Wilton, Gugu?). My hope was Geraldine James would make a more regal and substantial queen and the new Laertes would be more… Read more »