Another part of our assignment was to create a funny title. Funniest title gets an automatic A. After 5 hours of pondering a title, and 2 hours (max) or writing the damn review, mine doesn't even get a chuckle. Maybe a mild eyebrow raise. Such is life.
Now on to the Jude Law Hamlet: now, on Broadway!
The curtain opens; Jude Law as Hamlet crouches on the ground. The stage is stark and dim, stony like the interior of a cathedral. After heaving a sigh, the tortured hero rises and exits the stage. This brief introduction was not actually present in the text, and was the only major alteration of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the entire production. The remainder was disappointingly exact and altogether too normal for what is, underneath it all, a deeply disturbing play.
Michael Grandage’s Hamlet, seen on November 12, 2009, could easily be called Shakespeare-for-the-masses; located at the Broadhurst Theatre in the middle of
Generally, however, the acting was highly unbalanced. Law had great force, and his only other thespian equal was Polonius, played by Ron Cook. Here Grandage interpreted Polonius as a clownish buffoon and the set-up for many jokes made by the intellectually superior Hamlet. Cook’s nasal voice, as well as his strange habit of waddling around the stage, gave him the aura of a penguin. Cook’s comic charisma was well matched with Law’s emphatic delivery, but it also left the other actors in the dust. Claudius, interpreted by Kevin McNally, was a particularly disappointing choice, seeming more grandfatherly than sinister. Most unfortunate was Ophelia, who seemed to straddle the line between dullness and extreme overacting. Grandage’s spin on Ophelia transformed her from the meek, relatively uninteresting beauty of Shakespeare’s work to some sort of post-industrial feminist, with far more agency and enthusiasm than is necessary. Ophelia became catty and brash; after her turn towards madness in the fourth act, she sings her lines instead of speaking them—an odd twist, and by far the most interesting moment in her characterization (sadly, even this was not particularly interesting).
Although Grandage did give a slightly different spin on Ophelia and Polonius, the rest of the play, including set design, seemed too comfortably traditional. The set was minimal: a gray floor emulating stone, a similar wall, and a great wooden dungeon-like door in the middle. Oftentimes an ominous light would pass through two symmetrically-placed windows on the wall, usually implying that a soliloquy was to come. This gave Grandage’s Hamlet a quasi-romantic feel. The comparison made earlier with a cathedral, and the theatre’s previous Les Misérables production, was not arbitrary: it looked like something straight out of a Hugo novel. When the brooding Hamlet shuffles onto the stage his back is arched like Quasimodo’s.
Most interesting, however, was the loud humming noise before each scene, reminiscent of the X-files. Although this noise was at times overdramatic, one couldn’t help but want it even louder. Hamlet is a deeply uncomfortable play, and Grandage seemed to fear any deviation from the norm. The costumes were modern-day and unassuming; when characters were “mad” they didn’t wear shoes—a highly conventional theatrical trope. Coupled with the play’s extreme length—over three hours long, with not a scene cut—one couldn’t help but yawn. Even Freud wrote about Hamlet’s Oedipal quality over a hundred years ago; surely audiences have progressed to be more accepting of strangeness. We leave the play mildly satisfied—there were indeed beautiful things, such as the gentle fall of snow during the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy—but nonetheless desire something far more creative than the banal interpretation presented.