Broadway, play

Location: Broadhurst Theatre

Jude Law as Hamlet, photo courtesy of Boneau/Bryan-Brown.

BOTTOM LINE:  Hamlet told as it should be, without pretense or ego.  What has become a clichéd piece of work is fresh with a timelessness and fraught with newness and passion.

What a piece of work is The Donmar Warehouse production of Shakespeare's Hamlet.  If Jude Law was not already a star, this show would make him one.  Law plays the title character, the quintessential perpetual adolescent unable to cope with the harsh realities of his crumbling world and his disillusioned view of humanity.  It's not often that one sees an actor play an infamous character, a character whose lines are so quoted that they have become clichés of themselves, and thinks, "Wow, this role was written for him," but the thought crossed my mind.  Law made me forget the fact that I knew his lines by heart and he got me to listen to him speak those famous words as if for the first time.   

His handling of the recorder speech, to disloyal friends Rosencrantz (John MacMillan) and Guildenstern (Harry Attwell), "though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me," is handled so swiftly that you fall into his trap just as his friends on stage do.  Law is so in the moment, so facile with the language that never does it seem like he is reciting Shakespeare, or saying pretty words, instead it is organic and sounds modern without trying to sound modern.  When he is done giving them theirs, you just want to go "Awww, snap!"  (OK, so maybe, just maybe, I snapped my fingers - but I was not alone, there was an audible reaction of support from the rest of the audience too.)

Law also made me forgot the fact that he is a "Hollywood transplant," the phrase coined to describe the growing trend of silver-screen faces that have graced (or tarnished), the boards of Broadway lately.  It is apparent; however, that this is a film actor and I mean that as a tremendous compliment, in every sense of the word.  This man knows his body, his angles, the power of a flinch and of detailed subtlety.  His raw honestly is what translates in his work, stage or screen; this isprobably why he's been honored with nominations for both a Tony and an Oscar.  While Law is clearly the star vehicle in this show, his humility is as disarming as his good looks.  It should be noted that Law is rumored to be receiving scale pay, his name does not appear in larger font nor ahead of anyone else in the Playbill and he is listed alphabetically in the "Who's Who" cast bios.  This clearly enforces the idea of an ensemble production.  Something that is vitally important to director Michael Grandage.

This is a well-grounded ensemble production.  Though there are cast standouts (more on that later), the overwhelming feeling of strength and power that emanates from the group as a collective are undeniable, especially during the royal court scenes when the entire cast takes the stage.  Such scenes also exhibit moments of breathtaking direction further supported by an amazing lighting design by Neil Austin, well-integrated, flawless sound design by Adam Cork, and a gorgeous, monolithic set by Christopher Oram.

Although I did take one lighting design course in undergrad, I do not claim to know how lights work (sorry Prof. Knewtson), but I do know when they work, and they work in this show.  During the famous "To be or not to be" speech the steely lights, coupled with the chilling sounds, against the hard brick flanked by the ominous, heavy, wooden doors isolate a loan Hamlet, dressed in shades of black and gray, as gentle wisps of snow fall on his shoulders and I swear the temperature of the theatre dropped twenty-five degrees in that moment, it was that powerful.  More of Grandage's keen direction shows in the scene where Polonius is murdered.  Shown from the point of view of Polonius, it is done with such clarity and deftness that a new light is cast on how one views this entire death scene, Polonius' character, and ultimately Hamlet's tragic unraveling.

My only complaint is that this is basically when the pace of the show, more or less, plateaus.  Every moment leading up to then builds and escalates.  The play is so well orchestrated that one expects that the end of the play will be a rapid-fire of conflicts in succession building to the ultimate climax.  Instead, it seems to climax at Polonius' death and then levels off rather than continuing to build with each succeeding death.  (I won't even mention Geraldine James mockery of Gertrude's death - oops, I mentioned it.  Oh, well.  But there were chuckles in the audience, which was such a shame because the rest of the play was truly solid.)

Speaking of Polonius however, Ron Cook is stellar.  His comedic timing is impeccable and his simpleton, almost naive portrayal of Polonius makes him incredibly likable.  Other cast standouts include the aforementioned MacMillan as Rosencrantz, Gwilym Lee as Laertes, and Kevin R. McNally (of Pirates of the Caribbean fame), as Claudius.

If you have never before seen Shakespeare performed, what a glorious introduction this Donmar Warehouse production of Hamlet would be.  If you have seen hundreds of Shakespeare productions before, including dozens of Hamlets, see this production.  I promise, it will be as if you are seeing it for the first time.  When one sees a production of a 400-year-old script held to a standard like this, it is easy to see why Shakespeare has stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time.

(Hamlet plays a limited engagement at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th St., through December 6th.  Performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday at 2pm and 7:30pm, Thursday and Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm.  Running time is 3 hours 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.  Visit for more info.

TICKETS: Range from $116.50 - $25 and are available through at 212-239-6200 or  A limited number of $35 tickets, subject to availability, will be made available for purchase by students at the Broadhurst Theatre box office on the day of performance only.  One ticket per valid student ID.)