Critics chime in on Law’s ‘Hamlet’

Strong buzz follows Donmar production

To be or not to be on Broadway.

That is the question being mulled since Michael Grandage’s Donmar West End production of “Hamlet,” starring Jude Law, opened June 3 at Wyndham’s Theater to mostly strong reviews. Rialto producers and theater owners reportedly will be traveling to London to check out the revival for a possible New York run.

Previous Donmar Warehouse productions that yielded Gotham transfers include “Cabaret,” “Frost/Nixon” and the current “Mary Stuart.” If Law does bring his Hamlet to town, it will be the first visit of Shakespeare’s brooding Danish prince to Broadway since Ralph Fiennes won a Tony for the role in 1995.

Here’s what the London critics said:

  • While noting that past “Hamlet” productions have been more personal and political, Variety‘s David Benedict called Law’s portrayal “riveting, thrillingly vital.” He wrote: “The outstanding quality of this assured incarnation of Shakespeare’s richest work is its unerring sense of completeness.”

  •  BBC News’ Caroline Briggs rated Law’s performance “fine and solid” and “one that will surely answer those who sniffed at the casting.” However, she had less praise for Kevin McNally’s Claudius and David Burke’s gravedigger.

  •  While he lamented Grandage’s incorporation of ambient background music and found McNally’s Claudius “pathetically bland,” the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer was a major proponent of the show: “Anyone who loves the play will enjoy this ‘Hamlet,’ but the people I envy most are those who see it for the first time in this thrilling and deeply felt production.”

  •  The Observer’s Susannah Clapp joined the support team for Law’s Hamlet, but gave special plaudits to one of his co-stars: “Gertrude is one of the most unrewarding of parts. … But Penelope Wilton makes observation into an activity.”

  •  The London Evening Standard’s Henry Hitchings declared the strength of Law’s performance “impossible to deny,” but acknowledged “other roles have been less effectively cast.”

  •  Michael Billington in the Guardian found the production lacking in social and political context but nonetheless judged it “a swift, clear, well-staged version of Shakespeare’s most exciting play.”

    n The Times’ Christopher Hart gave the show a mixedreview, calling Law’s work “a perfectly solid and respectable performance” but “not a Hamlet that will still be talked about in 10 years’ time.”

  •  The Independent’s Michael Coveney wrote perhaps the most damaging review, blasting Law’s performance as a disappointment: “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 sweatshirt and baggy pantaloons.”

Law previously appeared on Broadway in 1995 in the National Theater production of Jean Cocteau’s “Indiscretions,” scoring a Tony nom for featured actor. If he does transfer with “Hamlet,” he will join a distinguished list of actors to tackle the role on the Rialto including Sam Waterston, Richard Burton, Leslie Howard, John Gielgud, John Barrymore and Edwin Booth.