Hamlet, Donmar production, Wyndham’s Theatre, August 2009


This was an excellent production by Michael Grandage, with large plain sets and modern costumes by Christopher Oram, well lit by Neil Austin, and the music and sound by Adam Cork was very effective. Jude Law was an anguished Hamlet, and though not a traditional Shakespearean actor he managed the part well, but I found little joy in his speeches. They seemed to be delivered too fast, or with inadequate breathing, to have the cleverness one often associates with Hamlet. Penelope Wilton was wonderful as his mother Gertrude, changing gradually from calm sympathy with her son to being an appalled accomplice in murder. As one critic said, she did look awfully like the ex-home secretary Jacqui Smith, but her increasing self-awareness left Ms. Smith in the narcissistic shadows inhabited by more than one of our modern politicians. As the king, Kevin McNally was robust and confident, a clever schemer well shown to be hoist on his own petard. One can hardly imagine him putting up with a doddering Polonius, and indeed Ron Cook portrayed that role with more vigour than is often the case. As Ophelia, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was lovely, but not entirely convincing in her descent to madness. Alex Waldmann was her brother Laertes, and I thought Matt Ryan was a wonderfully warm-hearted Horatio. The ghost of Hamlet’s father was very strongly portrayed by Peter Eyre, who also acted well as the player king.

Altogether this was a good production, well worth seeing, but I wish Hamlet’s speeches had been given with less force and more subtlety. And I did not quite see the point of having the soliloquy “To be, or not to be” given alone on the stage in a snowstorm.

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