Matthew Dancona

A <em>Hamlet</em> to forget

A <em>Hamlet</em> to forget
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Was I at a different production of Hamlet to that described so rapturously by the critics today? The Donmar’s West End season began with a sublime Ivanov, in which Kenneth Branagh, gave a never-to-be-forgotten performance. Branagh was meant to direct Jude Law in the fourth and final play in the quartet, but pulled out, leaving Michael Grandage to do the honours. Now, I am a huge fan of both Grandage and the Donmar, but I have to say that this Hamlet was, to my eyes at least, nothing short of a stinker.

The Prince of Denmark should be frangible and ill at ease, not posturing and poised. You have to believe in the “antic disposition” or at least be forced to ask whether it is all an act or not. This is why Ben Whishaw’s Hamlet at the Old Vic in 2004 was so heart-stopping: one felt he might explode or fragment into a thousand pieces at any moment, that the “too, too solid flesh” really might melt.

Jude Law is too delighted to be Jude Law to ask the question “To be or not to be” with any conviction: you feel that what he really means is – “To be fabulous, or to be even more fabulous”. The torment and insanity seemed like so much thespian sticky-back plastic, grafted on in rehearsal, and more than once I found myself wondering why I had paid to attend a celebrity reading of Hamlet at Shoreditch House.

Penelope Wilton is a superb Gertrude and I liked the nicely-judged pomposity of Ron Cook’s Polonius. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is surely the most beautiful Ophelia to have graced the London stage for years and will, one felt, grow into the role with each performance.

But it is hard to believe Jude when he cries “I loved Ophelia”.  This Hamlet is in love with one person: himself.