Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts…” but the critics have racked up quite a number of reviews of Michael Grandage’s production of Hamlet, starring Jude Law in the title role.
After a nearly three month run put on by Donmar Warehouse at the Wyndam’s Theatre in London’s West End, Hamlet comes to Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre for a limited twelve week run, currently in previews, with opening night just ‘round the corner on October 6. Reviews of Law’s performance have been timidly favorable, praising on the one hand and pointing out insufficiencies with the other, yet offering a seeming invitation for both Shakespeareans and Lawstruck fans, alike.
Most from the London cast follow Law to the states, with the mention-worthy exception of Penelope Wilton who passes Gertrude’s torch to English actress Geraldine James, who has been praised by Shakespeare director Peter Hall as one of the great classical actresses of our time, and who portrayed Portia opposite Dustin Hoffman’s Shylock in a London turn Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice (1989-90).
The thirty-seven year old Law portrays the troubled Prince of Denmark in his first Shakespeare production to speak of, and on the tails of the highly praised David Tennant, who wowed audiences with his Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Company in 2008. In May 2009, Telegraph.co.uk theatre critic Charles Spencer asked Law how he felt about following such a well-received portrayal by Tennant, not to mention all the other unforgettable Hamlets engrained in our memories (who doesn’t automatically think of Olivier when I say Hamlet?). Law answered well, and perhaps without knowing, gave a nod to Roosevelt’s thoughts on the critic.
“You have to forget all that. Hamlet is a bit like a great song that’s been covered by a load of different singers. It’s like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell all covering the same song. But they would each bring a different sound and colour to it.”
Back in June 2009, Michael Billington of The Guardian praised Christopher Oram’s set and Neil Austin’s lighting design because they give structure and insight into Hamlet’s claim that “Denmark is a prison.” He finds Ophelia’s “quiet madness” remarkably “touching” (Ophelia is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw). He relates that Law swaps out Hamlet’s humor and quick wit for an emphasis on Hamlet’s depth and self-awareness as well as a mesmerized love/hate affair with death.
Michael Coveney of The Independent offered up a cheeky review and only two stars out of five, spending most of the time comparing Law with Tennant. Coveney finds the set design drab and dark and the lighting insufficient; he finds Mbatha-Raw’s Ophelia to be pretty yet tedious, and Law is sexy, yet lacks humor, a sufficient wardrobe, and the ability to speak the speech.
Benedict Nightingale of The Times also chooses to compare Law with Tennant (get the picture?), choosing to follow Tennant from the start. He agrees that the set design is “grim,” and finds Mbatha-Raw unprepared. Nightingale agrees that Hamlet’s wit and wry humour is lacking, but he praises Law for his “immaculate” verse-speaking and charisma as well as strength in character, although sees more Henry V than Hamlet in Law’s rendition. Nightingale also says that this Hamlet is just plain angry and would likely seek out therapy had Elsinore Castle a resident shrink.
And finally there’s Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph, who praises this production more so than the rest of the above critics, and who took the time to interview Law and director Michael Grandage back in May 2009. Spencer picks up a symbiotic relationship between set design and characters, noting an aura of oblivion and isolation. He sees Mbatha-Raw as “the most pitifully vulnerable” of Ophelias. And Law is a boyish and vulnerable Hamlet: intellectual, emotional, angry and depressed. He is moving in soliloquy and delivers a thrilling performance. Overall, the production is “accessible” and “gripping,” which means it invites you in and keeps you there.
With opening night at the Broadhurst less than three weeks away, New York’s all buzz buzz about Jude Law’s Hamlet. After a three month run in London, there’s little doubt that Law has come a long way since these critical reviews were written up back in June. I think as long as Law can continue to forget he’s not Tennant, not Jacobi and not Olivier—that he is a Hamlet of a different sound and color—he may just break out of this critics’ prison and into a role of his own.
Mr. Law, perhaps you should have a read:
"It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."
Or so says the critic…
Hamlet opens on October 6, 2009 (currently in previews) at The Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. Reservations and information can be found at broadhursttheater.net.