Sunday, November 15, 2009

Theater Review: Hamlet

For director Michael Grandage’s often imaginative staging of Hamlet at the Broadhurst, Christopher Oram has designed a courtyard with two massive, impenetrable towers, which have been punctured here and there so that we can see slivers of Neil Austin’s sunless, moody lighting design. And for the play’s interior scenes, the stone walls smoothly move apart to reveal a household in which the inhabitants become increasingly disordered and disheveled.

For this production (imported from London’s Donmar Warehouse), Jude Law is Prince of Denmark. And even if he is not the best Hamlet I’ve seen, he is certainly every inch the Prince. Every entrance and exit appears to make an impact. His Hamlet is, in brief, authoritatively alive, and he brings an emphatic eagerness to the role that is often dazzling. He has ample technique to convey the young man’s disassociation from his environment, from his family, from his friends. He knows how to emphasize the character’s aching isolation, seeming madness and utter desperation. He lets it be known that he is essentially “not in madness/But mad in craft.” He moves lithely; his voice is wonderfully musical, and he handles the comedic lines well. And, in a clever bit of staging that has the effect of taking the audience into his confidence, Law comes downstage to recite each soliloquy. Only the “To be or not to be...” soliloquy is recited under a light snowfall, a pretty but distracting effect.

The supporting roles are, for the most, at least effectively handled. As Claudius, Hamlet’s nemesis, Kevin R. McNally is suitably duplicitous and vacant; Geraldine James, as Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is convincingly agitated; Ron Cook’s Polonius is wonderfully cunning; and Matt Ryam is a loyal and stirring Horatio. But Gugu Mbatha-Raw disappoints as an often indeterminate Ophelia. However, it’s Law that the audience has come to see, and he certainly lets neither Shakespeare nor us down.

After curtain calls, when you exit the Broadhurst, you find that you’re surrounded by hundreds of fans. The spectators, held back by police barricades, have their digital cameras all aimed at the stage door. It’s a reception that’s fit for ... well, a prince.