Is it, I wonder, possible to become so inured to a play you've seen repeatedly throughout your life that when a presumably revelatory new production comes along, you're impossible to impress? This is the question with which I struggled mightily throughout the UK import Donmar Warehouse iteration of Hamlet.
Despite the clarity of star Jude Law's interpretation, a Brit-style “bad boy” approach that leaves little room for the possibility that the Danish Prince is insane rather than operating in a state of controlled rage, there doesn't seem anything much going on to merit the kind of acclaim that has greeted the “package” surrounding it, at least there wasn’t for me: Design wise, it's a fancied up black box: big sliding metal doors for gates and a platform or two, indicia of a big, gray medieval castle, but you could remove all of that and it would affect the staging barely a whit. Costume wise, it's one of those semi-modern dress deals; a contemporary "feel" with only bland anachronism and minimal period frippery, mostly also in shades of gray and black. Most importantly, acting-wise, it’s perfectly respectable, under the likewise respectable direction of Michael Grandage. I thought Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ophelia and Ron Cook’s turns as first Polonius and the Grave Digger (a very interesting doubling) stood out from the pack quite a bit, but those perks were overshadowed by an otherwise…how shall I put this…”nostalgia”-filled evening.
I mean, look: If you’ve never really seen Hamlet done to a sharply polished, professional turn, you could do a lot worse for your first. But if you’ve been round the block, or should that be the Old Globe, I can’t help but suspect you’ll find this Hamlet to be bard-ness as usual.
Strangely, I had a very similar response to Carrie Fisher's one woman confessional Wishful Drinking. There's no question that as a middle-aged Hollywood survivor with grim and scandalous stories to tell about her family, substance abuse and being bi-polar—and a little naughtiness about Star Wars—she delivers the goods with as much wry, witty self-aware humor as one could wish for. But I couldn't escape the feeling that I've been here before too. Isn't this kind of candid comic admission a longtime staple of standup comedy? Isn't putting it in a theatre rather than a nightclub just a transmutation of venue? Why should Ms. Fisher's crack at it be accorded any more special attention than, I don’t know, that of Louis CK?
If your answer is, "Because it's hers," a perfectly fine and utterly reasonable answer, then let me not dissuade you; she and her material will make you anywhere from very to deliriously happy. She absolutely fulfills the dishy promise of the evening.
if you're at that point in life where too many things labeled “new” are in fact
only new to those too young for other memories, or where your exposure to other
such vehicles is sufficient to make you relive the experience before you have
it, then I’d say save your investment for fresher fare. Even when you attend at
bargain rates, it’s the time you
never get back…
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