Friday 17 July 2009

Hamlet @ Wyndhams

Of course it’s the best play ever written. You could probably see it a couple of times a week and discover something fresh. It’s elemental, existential, uneven, sketchy, obvious, obscure, less crazy than Lear, but more transcendent, more comforting in some odd way. Perhaps more than any other play it gives the lie to the notion of a “definitive” production. No one production can ever encompass this prismatic play. Yet each interpretation, each new production or film version, gives the audience something.

Michael Grandage’s production at Wyndhams gives a lot. It’s clear, uncluttered, thankfully un-conceptualised, swift and full of feeling, with a well-sustained atmosphere of claustrophobia and surveillance, a sense of Denmark as prison. It has one of the greatest Ghosts I’ve ever seen (Peter Eyre’s “List, list, O lists” galvanise the theatre), and a determinedly unregal but relatable and moving Gertrude in Penelope Wilton. It has a superb closet scene that begins by placing us as eavesdroppers along with Ron Cook’s Polonius, an oddly cleansing “To be or not to be” set to falling snow, and doors opening on “Let be” – a perfect visualisation of that mysterious late epiphany. And it has, of course, Jude Law, sensitive and supple, intelligent and touching. This is a physical performance, sometimes excessively so: there’s perhaps too great a reliance on gestures, on externalising and "acting out" the imagery, so much so that Hamlet’s advice to the players about not “sawing the air” sounds a bit ironic. But this is a well-modulated, compelling performance: he’s nimble in the mad scenes, brilliant when goading Polonius, tender, lyrical, witty and bitter. When this Hamlet says “Man delights not me” you believe him. So much is good in this production that the little lapses - musical accompaniment during Ophelia’s songs, a few not-entirely-adequate performances - don’t seem to matter very much. It’s Hamlet. What more do you need? The play’s the thing.