It seemed like Jude Law's Hamlet was going to end up being a bit overshadowed, coming as it did only six months after David Tennant's. In the event it's proven a big success - tickets are nigh-impossible to come by (I bought mine well over a year ago) and it's given Law his first positive press in years. Hamlet's probably my favourite Shakespeare play - I love how much variety different productions can find in the play, and hearing the audience members who are new to it gasp as they realise yet another well-known phrase originates there is always fun. Where Gregory Doran's production in December (in which I, like most people, saw understudy Ed Bennett in the lead instead of Tennant) really brought out the comedy in the play, here Michael Grandage brings the fact that it's a thriller to the fore with a fairly dark interpretation. Set against Christopher Oram's imposing dark wood and stone set it's all-action from the start.
With 40% of the dialogue, Hamlet carries the play more than most leads. I've seen Jude Law twice on stage before so I knew he was up to the job, and he doesn't disappoint. He's not the best I've seen (Sam West and Simon Russell Beale are still probably my favourites) but he's an interestingly twitchy, angry Hamlet. Where most productions I've seen have made it clear his madness is an act, Law blurs the lines a lot more, effectively giving two different "mad" performances - the theatrical, teasing madman is for public consumption, but even when he's on his own there's something about him that's clearly not right. Here his encounter with Fortinbras' army is a genuine watershed, and when he returns he's much more focused and steady. I particularly liked his Yorick speech - resisting the urge to strike the most famous pose in theatre, he instead shows a touchingly genuine affection for the man who once inhabited the skull.
Elsewhere the casting is a mixed bag - Peter Eyre's ghost is annoyingly overdramatic and often incomprehensible, and Kevin R McNally's Claudius is a bit inconsequential. A lot of the actors take a while to warm into their roles - Penelope Wilton is a sad, distant Gertrude, and while Gugu Mbatha-Raw starts off fairly bland as Ophelia, I really enjoyed her mad scene, which she gives a particularly otherworldly air to. Ron Cook is a youngish Polonius but despite the inclusion of the Barnardo scene is a pretty likeable one. Alex Waldmann, who I've seen in three different Shakespearean roles now, seems initially out of his depth as Laertes but he too grows into his role. He's still a cutie, although if his hair gets any bigger he'll turn into Patty Bouvier.
The fencing match at the end is one of the most exciting versions I've seen, Law and Waldmann growing particularly vicious as it goes on. A tightly-conceived production overall, clearly told. Hamlet by William Shakespeare is booking until the 22nd of August at Wyndhams Theatre, followed by a transfer to Elsinore Castle in Denmark, and then the Broadhurst Theatre in New York.