Wednesday, October 7, 2009



By William Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Grandage. Broadhurst Theatre. (CLOSED)

Critics agree that Jude Law makes a vigorous, mercurial Hamlet rather than a broodingly inactive one; what they differ on, strongly, is whether that's good for the play, and whether Michael Grandage's Donmar Warehouse production is a smartly straightforward rendering that forcefully realizes Shakespeare's tragedy or a custom-tooled but uninspired star vehicle. Apart from some passionate outliers at the top and bottom, the majority of critics, it's fair to say, split the difference with faint praise, hailing Law's interpretation as eminently watchable and credible and seeming quite grateful that Grandage hasn't imposed off-putting directorial conceits on the production. There's no consensus on the supporting cast, and though most critics admire Christopher Oram's monochrome set, a few feel it demonstrates the way the show crouches in the shadow of its bright star.

Theatermania A+
(David Finkle) Jude Law's portrayal of the melancholy Dane...isn't just one of the best ever committed to the stage, it's also not your usual interpretation...Law's Hamlet is hardly the brooding, vacillating and intermittently crazed figure ticket buyers may expect to see. Instead, he's emotional, calculating, quick-witted, short-fused, and constantly moving on fleet feet across set designer Christopher Oram's high-walled, claustrophobic Elsinore...Moreover, Shakespeare's gorgeously poetic lines are spears shaken belligerently at everyone within shouting distance -- including the audience, to whom he addresses Hamlet's four soliloquies from the front of the stage as directly, challengingly, and engagingly as they may have ever been proclaimed. The entire enterprise, as Grandage has planned it, is also a piece of exhilarating work, speeding along as if jet-propelled...The director also has made a point of scaling the sinister proceedings to Law's explosive performance and to the grandeur of Shakespeare's language...Not one of the well-spoken cast falls short of delivering the text with impassioned lucidity.

USA Today A+
(Elysa Gardner) As brave, beautiful and robustly exciting a reading of this play as you're likely to see...Grandage mines the accessible motives and emotions of the Bard's characters and the visceral power of his language. In doing so, he appeals to younger fans and casual theatergoers likely to be drawn by Law's presence without patronizing them...This earthy eloquence is especially striking in Law's performance. His Hamlet is no brooding philosopher/prince; he's an angry young man, a bundle of nerves forever threatening to explode...The leading man benefits, too, from magnificent support. Grandage ensures that each character is as crisply drawn as the sleek business suits included in Christopher Oram's costumes, which provide this production's one subtly anachronistic touch...It's tough to imagine a more exhilarating way to spend three hours sitting down.

The Daily News A
(Joe Dziemianowicz) CAN A MOVIE STAR on the stage transcend his film performances and even rise above the gossip pages? The answer is yes when it comes to Jude Law, who's giving a spine-tingling and richly layered performance in a new version of "Hamlet" that makes you forget about his past roles and bad-boy melodramas...What sets this three-hour-plus interpretation apart isn't just Law's performance, but Michael Grandage's excellent direction...Grandage's "Hamlet" is lean, focused and electrifying...There's no artificiality or fussy frills, and the bard's characters and their relationships seem vivid and real...The company of players from London is filled with topnotch actors who deliver the text with bell-like clarity.

Los Angeles Times A
(Charles McNulty) Jude Law may not be the most emotionally piercing or philosophically profound Hamlet, but he brings an admirable balance to this most challenging of Shakespearean roles. His smart and sincerely inhabited performance is the centerpiece of the Donmar Warehouse's vigorously chic production...Law, as you can imagine, cuts quite a princely figure, but the handsomeness of his interpretation is more than skin deep. He succeeds at catching what the Romantic-era critic William Hazlitt described as the protagonist's "high enthusiasm and quick sensibility." Passions not only surge within him, but they also suddenly change course, like tides redirected by fierce winds...Grandage's staging renders the tragedy in human terms. The focus is always on what's fueling the confrontations -- what do the characters want? What aren't they getting? The action, even when the performers aren't top tier, is never just words, words, words. It's about flesh and blood and bad dreams. A
(Jeannie Lieberman) The no-frills, almost industrial Donmar Warehouse production of Hamlet assures minimal distraction. This is due in part to the efficiently stark yet dramatic staging of the classic Shakespearean revenge tragedy by director Michael Grandage...It is also due in part to the myriad talents of the strong British ensemble cast...But mostly the success of this most recent Broadway revival is due to the boundless charisma and star power of its Hamlet, Jude Law, with his chiseled movie star features, his boyish tousled hair, and the vigor exuding through his youthful physique, offers up a riveting Hamlet that drives the drama and ultimate tragedy of one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.

Talkin' Broadway A-
(Matthew Murray) This approach lets you see, as not every interpretation does, both the cogs within cogs that fuel Hamlet’s propulsion toward vengeance as well as the underlying mechanics of those unintended outcomes...It’s a classical treatment, to be sure, more in line with the role’s origins as Amlothi in Norse mythology than the super-psychoanalyzing star-vehicle treatments that are often the norm today. Despite his predilection for great thoughts and speeches - all of which are so famous, they need not even be referred to here - Law’s Hamlet already comprehends his course and his destiny, bringing his section of the play exactly what we bring to it from our perspective: inevitability...Law and Grandage's real accomplishment is convincing us along the way that it’s everyone else in Hamlet’s life who is truly mad...Grandage has not given equally deep thought to other aspects of the production.

On Off Broadway A-
(Matt Windman) Thankfully, Grandage does not attempt to rewrite Shakespeare's tragedy. Instead, he provides a lean, mean staging that burns with intensity, urgency and clarity...Jude Law doesn't merely perform the role of Hamlet. Without looking back, he aggressively throws his whole body and vocal chords into the role, producing a Hamlet that is expressive, unpredictable, manic, wild, disturbed, depressed, frustrated, youthful, uneasy, dangerous, sarcastic, ridiculous and so much more. One thing he is not is eloquent...The rest of the cast, many of whom can match Law's modelesque appearance, is quite good, with the main exception of Gugu Mbatha-Raw's unconvincing Ophelia. But you'll hardly even notice her. You'll be too busy observing the tidal wave of emotions that is Jude Law's performance.

Time Out NY B+
(David Cote) Despite the long-standing problems of staging the classic, which director Michael Grandage does not solve, his stylish, monumental production has plenty to thrill and hold your attention. Wags in the audience could nickname Jude Law’s rendition “Yoga Hamlet,” seeing as how the lean movie star pads about the stage barefoot in stretchy pants and a clingy T-shirt, often squatting and lunging with the sinewy ease of a Bikram vet (downward-facing Dane, perhaps?). But for all the surface glamour of Law’s portrayal, his vocal delivery is solidly plugged into Hamlet’s rage and anguish...He he holds court at the center of his scenes with an intensity, intelligence and awestruck wonder that puts most Hamlets I’ve seen to shame. Luckily, Grandage doesn’t entirely surround his star with mediocrity, the better to make him shine...I’m still waiting for my generation’s Hamlet; but until it comes, Law’s will hold a seat in this distracted globe.

Financial Times B+
(Brendan Lemon) [Law's] His reading does not cut deep, until a fairly devastating recitation of the “fall of a sparrow” speech. His interpretation offers little insight into the eternal question of the Prince’s madness. His physical fluidity, though, is marvellous. He is head boy in his swagger, gymnastically using Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s shoulders for support...During the entire evening, I imagined Grandage watching the first full rehearsal-room run-through, then assembling his actors and saying, “Fine; but now double-time!” Grandage should be saluted for another reason: he allows his actors room to frolic. And frolicking is essential in a production with scant furniture, looming, fortress-like walls, and big-spill lighting. The modern costumes are grey yet covetable, as if Banana Republic or Zara did a fashion tie-in.

The Hollywood Reporter B+
(Frank Scheck) [A] compelling production that, judging by the profusion of young women in attendance, should provide a terrific introduction to Shakespeare for many audience members drawn mainly by the presence of its charismatic star...The British actor delivers a stirring, beautifully spoken performance that is as intelligent as it is dynamic. Infusing his turn with highly expressive body language that often garners significant but not obtrusive laughs, he is, quite rightly, the main center of attention. This is an uncommonly coherent production, free of gimmicks and transmitting the play's themes with true clarity...As if not to overshadow the star, the performances by the supporting cast are good if not quite great...Grandage orchestrates the play's disparate elements simply but masterfully, with Christopher Oram's gloomy, looming sets and Neil Austin's piercing, dramatic lighting adding greatly to the ominous mood.

Theatre News Online B+
(Robert Cashill) 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...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...Hamlet is one greatest hit after another; an indifferent production can usually just get by. But Grandage has staged it robustly.

New York Post B
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Jude Law doesn't embarrass himself as Hamlet. Far from it. His take on the sweet prince of Denmark leans toward the "tortured but forceful" school, as opposed to the "wishy-washy romantic" one, and he pulls it off with panache. And while Law is the only reason Michael Grandage's production is on Broadway, this isn't meant to disparage the show, which is perfectly honorable. Imported from London's Donmar company, this is the epitome of British-style quality: swift, well- acted, easy on the eyes and a breeze to follow. It's not an unforgettable "Hamlet," but it's a chic, well-executed one -- perfect gateway Shakespeare...The rest of the cast provides able support, although not so able that it would overshadow the main attraction...Along with its star, the production's other big asset is how good it looks -- something that shouldn't be underestimated when so many shows seem designed by the blind...It's to the credit of Grandage and his team that they realized a simple fact: You don't reinvent a wheel that's been rolling along nicely for centuries -- you just make sure it spins smoothly.

Associated Press B
(Michael Kuchwara) The actor's turbocharged performance as the anguished Danish prince is not particularly subtle, but it's well-spoken and clear. And eminently watchable. Sort of like the rest of the stylish Donmar Warehouse production...That clarity of storytelling is an advantage in a production that runs more than three hours. But then director Michael Grandage has not loaded down the play with gimmicks that distract from the lengthy tale. Text is all. First-timers will have no trouble following the plot...Other cast members offer variable support...Law has marched fearlessly through one of the great roles in dramatic literature - maybe the greatest - and done a credible job in making it his own.

The New Yorker B
(John Lahr) There have been better postwar British Hamlets—such as David Warner and Jonathan Pryce—who put their fingerprints on the role for a generation. Law’s performance does not reach their level of inspired nuance, but it is admirable nonetheless...He dexterously parses and shades Shakespeare’s poetry, making the words as clear, crisp, and compelling as his profile. For his soliloquies, Law comes downstage and, with his piercing almond eyes, draws us into his turbulent consciousness. It’s big magic. But, no matter how expert his technique or how potent his charisma, Law can’t hide his metabolism. He is easy in himself. He is affable. He is dashing...To establish a mature, heroic Hamlet—one who serves the parameters of Law’s virile persona—Grandage steers us away from the character’s psychological conundrums...Grandage’s swashbuckling attack on the play is meant for the mass audience, not for the reading room. If his interpretation lacks depth, the clear, strong melodramatic line of the plot—the withholding of action to maximize tension was Shakespeare’s narrative innovation—still keeps the audience on an emotional roller coaster.

The New York Times B-
(Ben Brantley) If vigor were all in acting Shakespeare, Jude Law would be a gold medal Hamlet...People who ask for a little introspection from the man whose name is a byword for that activity may find it perplexing that this Hamlet never seems to look inward, which means that he never grows up — or grows, period...Mr. Law, a rakish leading man of film, doesn’t disappear onstage the way some screen stars do. Though small-boned and delicately featured, he fills the theater to the saturation point...It is hard to understand the distress of Hamlet’s friends and family when he feigns madness, since the prince, in this case, appears to be as he always was: sarcastic, contemptuous, quick-witted and mad only in the sense of being really, really angry...Most of the supporting cast members have chosen to follow Mr. Law’s semaphore style, though in a scaled-down manner that befits a team that knows its raison d’être is to avoid obstructing the view of the name above the title...This is one production in which I could understand every word, and you feel the heat of energy from the stage...[Grandage's] “Hamlet” generates little psychological tension...And it is remarkably lacking in the vivid, specific characterizations you expect of Shakespeare in performance.

Variety B-
(David Rooney) An accessible presentation, but rarely exciting and even less often moving...The main attraction is Law's Hamlet, and like the production as a whole, his performance is a mixed bag -- in some ways impressive, in others distancing. His is less the brooding prince than the Extremely Pissed-Off one. The majority of his lines are spat out in passionate anger or disgust, sustaining a level of intensity that becomes wearing...Law is not lacking in stage technique, and his brisk handling of the language shows unerring confidence, but he's working hard and seldom lets us forget that...The surprise, however, is that while much of Law's bold performance rides roughshod over the character's core traits of scholarly philosophizing and depressed introspection, he does arrive by the end of the play at an effective reconciliation with the role...Whether the cumulative power of Law's performance justifies the approach is open for debate, but elsewhere the production is dampened by indifferent casting...It's all very severe and stylish, as are the contemporary outfits, but a look is no substitute for an illuminating context. All the visual dourness seems to infect the characters, whose lack of emotional connection to one another saps their love and hate of true feeling.

Lighting & Sound America B-
(David Barbour) This is an old-fashioned, by-the-numbers revival that engages only when the star occupies center stage...Law gives us a prince who is, quite simply, outraged at the rank corruption polluting the court of Denmark...In speech after speech, he sorts through his feelings, painfully working his way toward conclusions that can end only in bloody revenge. Law also invests Hamlet with a daunting intelligence and guile...Michael Grandage's handling of the trimmed text brings out the terrible logic of Shakespeare's play, how the Ghost's revelation to Hamlet of Claudius' crimes sets off an inexorable chain of events, ending in a roundelay of deaths...But, compared to Law's headlong characterization, the rest of the cast fades into the scenery...In fact, the general level of performance is so flat that I wonder if the real problem is that nobody has adjusted his or her work upward, from the intimate Donmar Warehouse, where the production originated, to the Broadhurst, a large-ish Broadway house. As long as Law is on stage, however, there's plenty to keep one engaged.

Newsday C+
(Linda Winer) Jude Law has a dashing, high-energy confidence...He has a focused, varied voice to go with his delicately chiseled fox-face features, and a lithe physical power that propels him from spotlight to spotlight with the effortless virtuosity of a Shakespearean action hero...But director Michael Grandage, head of the estimable Donmar Warehouse, has done neither any favors with the routine supporting cast. Despite Christopher Oram's hip black-and-drab clothes and tall minimalist sets, the production seems more assembled than built creatively around its main attraction. Despite the appearance of a high concept, the ideas behind it are stock, often delivered in the sort of an old-fashioned, master thespian British style that appears less committed to character than to the plummy beauty of the words.

Backstage C+
(David Sheward) A brilliant star surrounded by bleak nothingness. While Law gives a muscular, intelligent performance in the most challenging role in world literature, the supporting cast and the director's concept barely register. That's a shame, because Law is a Hamlet to remember, bringing exciting physical life to each line and gesture. This dynamic film star proves he's more than just a pretty face as he invests Hamlet's quest for revenge with an intellectual vigor and an athletic attack...Whether Grandage made a conscious decision to dial back the intensity of these performers in order to allow Law to shine more brightly is beyond the discernment of a critic, but, intentional or not, these are the unfortunate results.

The Globe & Mail C+
(J. Kelly Nestruck) First off: Here's to Jude Law for putting his fame to good theatrical use...Will it expose new audiences to Shakespeare's most important play? Well, my friend swears she overheard one young woman at the matinee we attended say: “I've never seen this play before. All I know from it is, ‘Out, out damn spot.'” So we can claim at least one initiate...[Law] is a capable Hamlet, a good one even. He speaks the text intelligently and has developed his own distinct interpretation of the role. Law's Hamlet seems to have heard the expression “Don't get mad, get even” and somehow got it backward. Upon learning from the ghost that his Uncle Claudius murdered his father, he gets mad as hell – and he's going to take it for a little while longer...Around Law's star turn, Grandage has crafted a lucid production, which has transferred from London's Donmar Warehouse. He is a director who never assumes the audience knows a play and his first task is to make everything understandable...But if it is clear, it is also often quite dull.

Theatre News Online C-
(Stuart Miller) Jude Law is Hamlet. That's not a marketing tag line, it's an approving assessment of Law's impressive ability to fully inhabit the disturbed Dane...Unfortunately, while Hamlet has plenty of company on stage, Law stands alone in giving a fully realized and visceral performance. Imagine Lebron James returning to play on his old high school basketball team and you get a sense of the imbalance...The rest of the cast deserves all the slings and arrows—their performances range from the adequate (Ron Cook as Polonius) to the unintelligible (Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ophelia)...The drab monochromatic costumes further depress the proceedings and also make Claudius—Kevin R. McNally with a salt-and-pepper coif—look like John Gotti. It is not flattering.

Wall Street Journal C-
(Terry Teachout) A perfectly respectable, perfectly predictable modern-dress version whose been-there-seen-this minimalist décor, created by Christopher Oram, is the theatrical equivalent of a little black dress: Everybody has one and they all look alike. The whole cast, in fact, is dressed in black (except for Ophelia, who is black)...It would be inordinately difficult to make anything surprising happen in this enervatingly familiar space. Michael Grandage, who directed the Donmar Warehouse premiere of "Frost/Nixon" that came to Broadway two years ago, barely even tries...Only Peter Eyre, who plays the ghost of Hamlet's father and the Player King, makes you sit up and pay attention, speaking his lines in a cadaverous bass voice so ripe and resonant that you can almost feel it in the soles of your feet. Mr. Law, a well-trained actor with extensive stage experience, gives a performance that struck me as a polished first draft, full of bright glints of wit and lithe physicality.

Village Voice D+
(Michael Feingold) Jude Law is an exciting and valuable actor. He brings a tremendous vital energy to the role of Hamlet, his choppy speech rhythms engaging in what sometimes seems like hand-to-hand combat with Shakespeare's metrics...In a real production, he could be one of the great Hamlets, but the sorry news is that Michael Grandage's dismaying, affectless plod-through, which features the dullest supporting cast I have ever seen in any Broadway production of anything, has no more to do with Shakespeare's Hamlet than a paint-by-numbers kit has to do with Rembrandt. I doubt that Grandage meant to evoke the rotten bygone days when stars like Edmund Kean toured England, doing their star thing while some ill-prepared local stock company tromped through its provincial notion of the standard "business," but that's exactly what his results look like.

Washington Post D
(Peter Marks) "Indicating" is a major no-no in the theater, the word acting teachers often use to admonish students who are not so much playing a role as telegraphing to an audience what it is they intend to play. So let's put it this way about Jude Law's performance in the much-anticipated -- and highly disappointing -- new "Hamlet" on Broadway: He's a most handsome and polished indicator...Invariably there is a concrete basis for what he's doing in Shakespeare's text, but the portrayal is consistently so literal, it's as if he's working out a character for a culture with only a tangential knowledge of English...Is the idea here that Law's Hamlet thinks all the world's a college stage?...On some superficial level, director Michael Grandage's production successfully conveys the mechanics of the tragedy, while Christopher Oram's sleek black-on-black sets and costumes apply a suitably ominous varnish to all that's rotten in Denmark. But if you're looking for an evening that provides anything close to a fresh perspective on the play, you're likely to have your hopes dashed but good.

Show Showdown D
(Patrick Lee) Jude Law throws his whole body into his riveting, magnetic performance as Hamlet: the force of his physicality is dramatically intense, and matched to the ferocity with which he navigates the text. Despite this and the reliably top-notch production values by way of Donmar Warehouse (special nod to the gorgeous lighting design), the production is a long, dull slog. When this many fine supporting actors fail to register I tend to think the responsibility belongs at the director's door...Hamlet as played by a big-name movie star of ability could have made for a sensational event to turn new audiences on to classic theatre, but this is one of the least lucid productions of the play I've ever seen. If you don't already know the play you're likely to be at a loss about most of the essential relationships, and you won't get any help from the direction about what information is going to pay off later in the plot.

Bloomberg News D-
(John Simon) Law’s interpretation, in accord with director Michael Grandage’s intent, is aimed at neophyte audiences lured to the play not only by the star but with the added promise of a thriller liberally sprinkled with yocks. This predicates frantic nonstop action as flashy, frequently jocular and unsubtle as possible, and the devil, or the more sophisticated theatergoer, take the hindmost. So we get a jack-in-the-box Hamlet, often violently restrained by others from rash action, or lifted up by them and swung like a human pendulum; or yet one who, if the text contains the word “ape,” lustily replicates the gait of a baboon. Such is Law’s charm that he gets away with a fair amount of this nonsense; his energized and kinetic readings of the soliloquies are, at times, rather welcome. But often enough the director’s frenetically B-movie approach severely shortchanges the play with hugger-mugger staging...The production has one comforting aspect for the Broadway theatergoer: A major British mounting of Shakespeare is for once as dismal as the standard American ones, making our usual loss no greater, but at least sparing us the sin of transatlantic envy.

Theatermania A+ 14; USA Today A+ 14; The Daily News A 13; Los Angeles Times A 13; A 13; Talkin' Broadway A- 12; On Off Broadway A- 12; Time Out NY B+ 11; Financial Times B+ 11; The Hollywood Reporter B+ 11; Theatre News Online B+ 11; New York Post B 10; Associated Press B 10; NYer B 10; The New York Times B- 9; Variety B- 9; LS&A B- 9; Newsday C+ 8; Backstage C+ 8; The Globe & Mail C+ 8; WSJ C- 7; TNO C- 7; Village Voice D+ 5; WaPo D 4; SSD D 4; Bloomberg News D- 3; TOTAL: 246/26=9.46 (B-)

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