Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 10:08 UK

Review: Jude Law in Hamlet

By Caroline Briggs
Arts and culture reporter, BBC News

Jude Law in Hamlet. Photograph: Johan Persson
Law: "A fine and solid performance"

Actor Jude Law was recently quoted in a newspaper as saying Hamlet was "a bit like a great song that's been covered by a load of different singers".

If so, judging by the cheers at the end of his Hamlet debut last night, Law has a hit on his hands, despite a few off-key notes.

Law took to the stage as the Prince of Denmark in the last production in the Donmar's West End season, at Wyndham's Theatre.

As the second high-profile star to play the Danish prince in under a year, the comparisons with Doctor Who star David Tennant are inevitable.

Both played Hamlet at roughly the same age and both are better known for their roles on TV and film, but it's about there the comparisons end.

While Tennant was a frenetic Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), switching seamlessly between sanity and feigned madness, Law was filled with ferocious anger, snarling and squaring up during the soliloquies.

Snow storm

Law lacked the wit and humour displayed so eloquently by Tennant, but his charisma and clarity shone through Michael Grandage's dull set.

He delivered the play's big lines with ease, despite being made to shiver in a snow storm for his "To be or not to be" speech.

And he captured the emotional intensity of the confrontation in his mother's bedroom, the full weight of his grief and anger falling in anguish on Gertrude, played magnificently by Penelope Wilton.

The scene was brilliantly staged by Grandage. Along with the doomed Polonius the audience watched the scene unfold behind a gauze curtain, eavesdropping on Hamlet and Gertrude's conversation before the "tedious old fool" met his end.

And the only blip in Hamlet's death scene was a badly-timed mobile phone ring from somewhere in row E.

In all, it was a fine and solid performance by Law and one that will surely answer those who sniffed at the casting. Let's not forget Law is a seasoned actor on stage as well as screen.

Wilton wowed; Gugu Mbatha-Raw was touching as Ophelia; and Ron Cook got laughs in all the right places for Polonius. But Kevin R McNally lacked something as Claudius and David Burke failed to raise the laughs as the gravedigger.

It was all played out on Christopher Oram's imposing prison-like set, with towering walls and heavy wooden doors, which echoed the palette of blacks, greys and deep purple clothes worn by the cast.

ROUND-UP OF REVIEWS

The Telegraph's Charles Spencer calls Jude Law's Hamlet "the student prince":

In recent years there have been madder Hamlets (Mark Rylance), wittier Hamlets (David Tennant), more desperate Hamlets (Ben Whishaw), and more spiritual Hamlets (Simon Russell Beale). But Jude Law, who confessed to moments of absolute terror about playing the role during rehearsals, joins the modern pantheon of spellbinding sweet princes with a performance of rare vulnerability and emotional openness.

Michael Billington in the Guardian gives the performance three stars out of five:

I missed the quicksilver humour that is part of Hamlet's character. But Law's Hamlet has the right inwardness and self-awareness. People who come to patronise him as a movie star essaying the great Dane will be in for a shock. He is a far from inexperienced classical actor and conveys the idea of Hamlet as a man who, as the critic John Wain once said, "cannot gear his meditation to action" and who is half in love with easeful death.

The Times Critic Benedict Nightingale thinks David Tennant was a better Hamlet:

His verse-speaking is immaculate and his charisma comes powering out from below the pock-marked columns, black walls and towering gates of Christopher Oram's grim set. His strength is that he's robust and tough and, as Fortinbras says, "like to have proved most royal". However, his limitation is that he's, well, robust and tough and playing the ditherer Hamlet, not a decisive Henry V.

The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts says Law is the best part of the play:

But handsome Mr Law is excellent. He makes a likeable Hamlet, without, thank goodness, the bulging-eyed, 21st century sarcasm of Mr Tennant.
He is a Hamlet who knows pretty clearly what he wants and he moves around the stage with lovely agility.

The Telegraph's Michael Coveney is the least impressed out of all the critics:

Jude is fine, it's just that he's not all that interesting when you do hear him. For a start he's not funny, which is sad given he's playing the wittiest tragic hero ever written. His speed of speech is a terrible affliction. And he looks like someone en route to the gym, in his grey sweat shirt and baggy pantaloons

Maxwell Cooter says in What's On Stage that Law's performance lacks subtlety:

Law must be one of the angriest Hamlets ever, when he exclaims "now could I drink hot blood", you wonder what he could have been feasting on before now. There's little of the philosopher prince contemplating life's bigger questions; there's little of the hesitancy of a man weighing up a host of options. Law's performance is more suited to Harry Hotspur than to the Prince of Denmark - he's straining for revenge even before he hears the Ghost's story.

Henry Hitchings from the Evening Standard says Law exceeded expectations:

The knives (or indeed bodkins) were out for Law from the moment it was announced that he was taking on the title role. Now they can be sheathed. For as the scholar-soldier-prince Law's performance is detailed and powerful.


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