Jude Law as Hamlet
All too often my reviews are as long as a speech given by Polonius, therefore, much like Polonius, I will attempt to be brief in this review. My only prologue to this composition is that I was in a production of Hamlet in college. Although my part was small, I still herald it as the best production I was ever a part of. This means that while I am very familiar with the play, I am also extremely critical of other productions of it. Much like Hamlet glorifies his father after he is dead; I am most assuredly guilty of remembering my production to be better than it probably was.
And now onto the review.
The current production of Hamlet starring Jude Law is a good production for those of whom think they will never understand Shakespeare. The entire cast goes to great pains to convey the meaning of their words to the audience, and no one does this more than Jude Law. Jude Law uses his hands to animate the meaning of his words, his tone of voice to clue the audience when something is supposed to be funny or serious, and generally relies on his looks, which are ever bit as gorgeous as they are on screen, to hold the audience’s attention during the more cerebral soliloquies. The audience, for the most part, seemed to be grateful for these dramatic antics, but I found them condescending and a sign of weakness in Law as an actor. The play is in English, so treating it like it was in a foreign language seemed to shift the goal of the actors and the audience. The actors’ goal seemed to be conveying the general plot to the audience, and the audience seemed to think that if they understood the show they were to be commended. With all this focus on communication the performance seem to greatly lack in one department…ACTING! With the exception of Polonius and Claudius, there was very little acting in this entire production.
Jude Law seemed to shine in the moment of comedy in Hamlet. For those of whom think Hamlet is nothing but a 3 hour slog fest of doom and gloom for the tragic Dane, I suggest you re-read the play. However, you could certainly avoid rereading by attending the production. I would say that rereading the play is cheaper and just as satisfying. Only in the comedic moments did Jude Law seems to enjoy his role, and forgets that he was playing such a prestigious role. Unfortunately, once these moments end Law reverted back to being a Shakespeare translator and stops acting. As a result all drama and tragedy that Hamlet is a part of is taught rather than performed.
Law’s greatest flaw is that he actually does all of the things that Hamlet tells the players not to do. Although Jude Law is actually guilty of all the things he requests the players avoid, I think perhaps the request most blatantly disregarded is that he struts and bellows in a way unlike anyone, mad or not, found in the real world. In the scene, wherein Hamlet feigns madness with Polonius and calls him a Fishmonger, Law greets Polonius by randomly humping him, imitates a crab, and generally makes a fool out of himself. There is a fine line between playing the fool and playing one that is mad, unfortunately the distinction is lost on Law.
Jude Law gave a performance that I could tolerate, but not overly impressed with. However, the women of the cast are truly the weak links. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Ophelia, is a shining example of some of the worst acting I have ever seen. She seems to not understand a word she is saying, and, although she is very pretty, seems to think she can get by on her looks. Ophelia’s mad scene has never felt longer, and her version of madness is not overly convincing. I assume she figured that since she went from wearing a pretty dress to a pair of pajamas we are to consider such a fashion faux pas the surest sign that she has lost her marbles. It makes one wonder if Hamlet truly is insane if ever found her interesting for any other reason than her looks. I am sure that the love poem he wrote her would have gone over her head even if all it said was “Do you like me? Yes or no.”
Geraldine James, Gertrude, gives a bit more to work with. She actually does a pretty good job for the first half of the play, but when time comes for the famous closet scene, everything simply falls apart. Gertrude does not seem to care that her son is seeing ghosts, simply confused. She also tells Hamlet she is pained by all the things he says to her, but it is not really apparent that she feels anything at all. Apparently Queen Gertrude has decided to mimic Queen Elizabeth II, and is completely unable to emote at all. After the famous closet scene we see Gertrude no longer willing to come and go at the behest of her new husband, but we are not overly sure why. She did not seem convinced of Hamlet’s claims against him, and although we often are shown her thinking before exiting, her thoughts are completely unknown to us. It might have been more prudent to ration her defiance to follow the king more to give it more effect. It seems there is much we do not know about Gertrude towards the end. Why does she give such a beautiful speech to Laertes about how Ophelia died? She seems to walk in and just deliver it as if she was paid to do so. Finally, does Gertrude drink the poison for any other reason? Or was she just thirsty? James portrayal of Gertrude leaves all of these questions to the audience, but her performance does not leave anyone actually wanting to know the answers.
Fortunately, there are some good things about this production. Kevin R. McNally gives an incredible performance as Claudius, and truly creates a unique spin on the betraying brother. His oily ease with kissing the wife of his murdered brother, and open arms to embrace Hamlet as a son is truly creepy. It is truly a delight to slowly watch him lose his cool as Hamlet uncovers his evil deeds.
Ron Cook, who plays both Polonius and the first grave digger, is truly the best actor in the show. His hilarious delivery in both roles is void of all distasteful antics that Hamlet describes to the players. He suits each action to the word, and each word to each action. He is not overly dramatic to the point that he seems to be acting, and truly captures the love and affection of the audience. If not for Mr. Cook’s performance I would have thought that Broadway would never know what Shakespeare is supposed to look like, but thankfully this production has a perfect example. The rest of the cast would do well to learn from this master with whom they share a stage.
It appears that much like Polonius I have failed to be brief, therefore the rest of my review I shall reduce to single sentences:
- Rosencrantz has an incredible stage voice, and is lovely to look at.
- I found it odd that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did not seem to be very in sync with each other.
- The players seemed to be a living prop, and gave performances wooden as the recorders they carried.
- The costumes were absolutely amazing, and I want all the coats in the show!
- The set was incredible!
- The sound effects were cool, but in were a little too layered in some scenes.
- The final sword fight was well choreographed.
- Ian Drysdale plays the straightest Osiric I have ever seen.