Hamlet -- Theater Review

The title character of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" doesn't actually appear until the second scene. But the producers of this new Donmar Warehouse production are canny enough not to wait to give the audience what they want. The first thing we see is star Jude Law, cutting a dashing image as the melancholy Dane as he strikes a dramatic pose and waits for the inevitable shrieks and applause to die down.

Fortunately, director Michael Grandage allows no further such pandering to infect his compelling production that, judging by the profusion of young women in attendance, should provide a terrific introduction to Shakespeare for many audience members drawn mainly by the presence of its charismatic star.

Making his first New York stage appearance since 1995's "Indiscretions" (before he was "Jude Law"), the British actor delivers a stirring, beautifully spoken performance that is as intelligent as it is dynamic. Infusing his turn with highly expressive body language that often garners significant but not obtrusive laughs, he is, quite rightly, the main center of attention.

This is an uncommonly coherent production, free of gimmicks and transmitting the play's themes with true clarity. Grandage has not weighed down the proceedings with any overarching "concept" but rather simply presents the work in all its thrilling emotional complexity.

As if not to overshadow the star, the performances by the supporting cast are good if not quite great, with particularly strong contributions from Ron Cook as Polonious; Peter Eyre, doubling as the Ghost of Hamlet's Father and the Player King; Matt Ryan as Horatio; and Kevin R. NcNally as Claudius. Geraldine James is adequate as Gertrude, though she fails to convey the darker elements of the role. The sole weak link is Gugu Mbatha-Raw's pallid Ophelia.

Almost all of the cast have been imported from the British production, with the result that the language is conveyed with the sort of vibrant immediacy and clarity that is too often lacking in American Shakespearean productions.

Grandage orchestrates the play's disparate elements simply but masterfully, with Christopher Oram's gloomy, looming sets and Neil Austin's piercing, dramatic lighting adding greatly to the ominous mood.

Venue: Broadhurst Theatre, New York (Through Dec. 6)
Presented by Arielle Tepper Madover, The Donmar Warehouse, Matthew Byam Shaw, Scott M. Delman, Stephanie P. McClelland, Neal Street Productions/Carl Moellenberg, Ruth Hendel/Barbara Whitman and Philip Morgaman/Frankie J. Grande
Cast: Jude Law, Kevin R. McNally, Geraldine James, Matt Ryan, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ron Cook, Peter Eyre, Gwilym Lee
Director: Michael Grandage
Set/costume designer: Christopher Oram
Lighting designer: Neil Austin
Composer/sound designer: Adam Cork
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