Monday, 1 June 2009

More matter with less art: Jude Law as Hamlet

Went to see Hamlet at the Donmar on Friday. Yes, that Hamlet - the Jude Law as Hamlet, Hamlet. I think this is the only play I've ever seen where I've had the tickets for over a year in advance. I haven't seen any reviews of the show yet, I'm assuming that's because it's still in previews, but I'll be interested to see what the reviewers say. Given that I was incredibly apprehensive about the theatrical talents of our Mr. Law, I was pleasantly surprised. But that's also a good summation of my overall attitude toward this production - pleasant, not a disappointment, but nowhere near the realm of stratospheric. Production quality was high, as it always is at the Donmar - the only theatre in London that always seems to have cash in hand - but there's always going to be the problem that you're never really getting into Hamlet the character as you're too struck by his resemblance to Jude Law.

To his credit, he's obviously worked hard and has done a respectable job in making the character his own. Law's Hamlet is funnier, dirtier, and more knowing than many other actors I've seen who get too carried away with playing Hamlet as a freakishly serious emo. One of the production's biggest problems was that in casting a superstar as his lead, Grandage was a bit screwed in finding a cast that wasn't drowned out. Apart from Ron Cook, who shines as Polonius, the rest of the cast are adequate, but no one shines - Ophelia is practically lifeless and for some reason the King reminded me of a priest - this is not an ensemble piece by any measure.

Hamlet's chock full of some of Shakespeare's most well-known lines and I think Grandage and his designer, Christopher Oram, put a lot of thought into making these well-worn lines feel fresh and distinct. The "to be or not to be" monologue was a particularly inspired piece of directing/design with Law slumped down against an exterior brick wall, snow falling from the sky. For a piece of theatre normally delivered in a no-holds-barred style of declamation, this quietly poignant delivery was one moment where you really forgot about Jude Law and really felt the pull of the beauty of the language. This isn't the best piece of theatre I've ever seen, but it has its moments of beauty and despite the rest of the production's flaws, Law is mesmerising as Hamlet. I'm not saying he's a truly great Hamlet, but it's certainly hard to take your eyes off him.

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