Jude Law, Hamlet
Credit: Johan Persson

Jude Law gives a strong, confident performance as Hamlet in a new production that just arrived on Broadway after a successful run in London last spring. The veteran movie star is so strong and confident, so self-possessed in his physicality on stage, that he almost works against one of the chief characteristics of Shakespeare’s Danish prince. While the actor fully conveys the horror of Hamlet’s condition and the anger he feels toward his uncle/stepfather Claudius (Kevin R. McNally), Law’s Hamlet just isn’t much of a ditherer.

But that’s a mere quibble in a first-rate production notable for its refreshingly straightforward, understated approach to the text. Director Michael Grandage plays the Bard straight, with few embellishments aside from a striking lighting design and modern-dress costumes that could have been pulled from the racks at Banana Republic (mostly grays and blacks). Hamlet’s relationship with his mother, Gertrude (Geraldine James), is not overtly Oedipal. His spurned lover, Ophelia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), descends into madness without showy hysteria. Even Ron Cook’s Polonius is played less as a buffoonish windbag and more as a somewhat self-absorbed bureaucrat.

Humanizing Polonius reaps an added benefit in the bedchamber scene, in which Hamlet finally confronts Gertrude about marrying Claudius so soon after her husband’s death. Grandage cleverly stages the scene so that Polonius is downstage, in front of a sheer curtain through which he (and the audience) observes Hamlet and Gertrude. We see the family drama unfold from Polonius’ point of view, right through the moment Hamlet mistakes him for Claudius and stabs him.

Grandage (and Law) don’t swing for the fences with this Hamlet. But while the show may not be a revelation, it is certainly a hit. A very palpable hit. And with the baseball playoffs just around the corner, a stage hit of any sort is more than welcome. B+

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