On the latest Hamlet out on Broadway…

Really good theater is more than timeless; it’s a cord that the actors and director pull which unearths the past in the present, connecting us in an almost eerie, ephemeral and visceral way; pulling us into a journey in which finally we are but a timeless audience ourselves in homage to the joy, the revelry, the delighted surprise or pain that is the “human condition” in art.

Just that kind of experience was Hamlet last night.

It was the kind of show that you sense, while in it—ah, see, I’ve said we were in Hamlet, rather than we were watching it—is more than simply a production of a show.  It was a piece of history in the making.

The kind of performance that enters history on its own powerful wings, that gives pulse and flight to Shakespeare fit even to astound the playwright himself.  I believe Shakespeare himself would have walked out like us last night, aware he had seen greatness; that he had seen his words filled with even more soul than ever even he’d imagined.

Oh, to share that with the wider world in the US…

I hate collecting unnecessary things, including paper.  I’ll collect a million notes and whatnot for my books—yes.  I’ll collect books themselves—yes.  But nothing else, really.  I don’t like to have too much.

But by the time the first act ended, I was scrambling for the playbill I’d tossed aside, and I clutched it close thereafter.  History’s in that playbill.  Some of our finest actors are in there now, forever captured in their great roles.

I won’t lie, my first thoughts were less…lofty.  My first thought, as the scene opened with Hamlet on the floor, dressed in distinctly not-old Scandinavian garb, the light and music highlighting his silent inner torment, was: “Oh, they’re using music?  And simplifying the wardrobe?  Hm.  Sigh.”  And then, only because I said I wouldn’t lie, I’ll admit to another thought: “Huh, so Jude Law really is that handsome in real life.”

But then it began.  Horatio (Matt Ryan) and the guards seeing Hamlet’s dead father’s ghost, and in horror summoning Hamlet (Law).  Hamlet questioning them and dashing up.  Within two scenes the humor, the madness, the compassion, the loyalty and friendship, the fear, the profane and profound, and we were hushed and breathless.  And now I can add to my summation of Mr Law that that man can act

No, not just act.  Not just inhabit a role. 

There simply is no way to explain it.  The actors acting as Horatio, Hamlet, Polonius (Ron Cook)—at whose name alone I already begin to giggle in anticipation—and Guildenstern (Harry Attwell) were stand-outs.  Ah yes, and the King (Peter Eyre) and Hamlet’s uncle (Kevin R. McNally). 

I tell you, those actors did their entire (what shall I call it?—craft? industry?) profession justice of the highest caliber.  They bowed before us when the show was over, but I tell you, we might have bowed to them.  Bowed in gratitude that they brought us a living, fraught Hamlet.  They delivered Shakespeare from the 17th century for us.  They brought us back, brought us in and delivered us back home safely but changed.

They were brilliance.  There were scenes so powerful—in acting, lighting and directing (and never has the impact of that strong nexus been so clear to me as in this production)—that one felt the audience itch to clap but refrain, in fear of distracting the players in the next scene, or missing a single moment of the drama. 

At the end of the first act, I turned to my friend J and said, “This makes me want to reread parts of the play.”  But what madness, I already do from time to time reread parts of the play.  By the end of the entire performance, I had regained my senses.  “This makes me want to reread most of the play.”  (I can skip some of the political scenes, I admit it.)

And when I got home, I did.  And as I did, I strove to hear their voices, their cadences in the words.  For the life in their words was such as to fill the play as never had it been filled before for me.  I can still hear Hamlet’s voice now in my head…  Polonius’s…  Horatio’s…

Never had I heard these speeches as I did last night.  Never had I felt such compassion for Hamlet, but likewise never had I loved Horatio before, and never laughed so hard at poor, confused Polonius.  Never had I felt anything much for the Queen at all.  Never had I pitied the Ghost King.  Never had I marveled at the control of the King Usurper before all unraveled.  Never had I sorrowed over the loss of faith betwixt Hamlet and old buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. 

Oh, oh, oh.  What brilliance and what beauty was that play. 

If you get the chance, please see it.  You will see history thrumming with life, heart and fury.  You will bleed.  You will love.  You will blog.

* Directed by Michael Grandage; Set & Costume Design by Christopher Oram; Composer & Sound by Adam Cork, and Lighting by Neil Austin.

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
This entry was posted in Broadway, Guildenstern, Hamlet, Harry Attwell, Horatio, Jude Law, magic of theater, New York, plays, playwrights, Polonius, Ron Cook, Shakespeare, theater, theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to On the latest Hamlet out on Broadway…

  1. Kasia says:

    Well, Jude Law IS English, darlink. 🙂 Glad to see that our dear playwright’s works are still bringing the houses down around the world. 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      Hahaha!

      England does have a gift for creating some incredible actors. Speaking of which, do me a favor–heck! let it be a favoUr, if it increases my chances–and let me know if ever Juliet Stevenson or Alan Rickman or Fiona Shaw are known to be up on a West End stage sometime. Or any stage in the UK. *considers for a moment* Or anywhere with a similarly priced air ticket. For they are magic. 🙂

      Did you manage to see the play in the UK? 🙂

  2. hope101 says:

    Ooh, I’d pay good money to see Alan Rickman in action. 🙂

    This is where you leave me in the dust, my dear Miss Sputnitsa. I confess to never having read Shakespeare at all, other than when commanded to do so by school. But I do love his work in movies and plays. It’s so much more accessible.

    Glad you enjoyed yourself. Sounds like a wonderful evening.

  3. sputnitsa says:

    We can go together. 🙂

    Oh, no, see, there’s a whole school of thought (which I hear simply means “some people think”) that plays ought to be watched and not read. So ’tis not a confession not to have read something.

    I remember the first time I saw Hamlet, which was late. It was the Kenneth Brannagh version. When Hamlet killed Polonius, I screamed. I had no idea. Garnered many chuckles from everyone else, I tell you 🙂

  4. ralfast says:

    I would pay good money to live in England. Alas….

    • sputnitsa says:

      I love London… Would love to visit Oxford. And the Moors. And–what’s that area called where Mr Darcy has his home? Yes, I’d love to spend more time out yonder. 🙂

  5. Yarnspnr says:

    How I envy you, Traveler. The last play I saw was in London, the original British production of “Hair” either in late ’69 or early ’70. It’s my own fault, really. The people I hang with these days aren’t ‘play’ people and I’m not one to do such things by myself. Oh well, next lifetime! Glad you enjoyed it!

    • sputnitsa says:

      Oh, yes, theater is something else, isn’t it?? 🙂

      I am so grateful for the opportunity… You are so right. Ah, I hope you do some play soon again; maybe one of your people will discover a play they’d love to see…. 🙂 🙂

  6. Beth says:

    I envy you! I haven’t seen Shakespeare performed brilliantly in years.
    There’s something truly spectacular about plays that grab you by the gut and stick with you. You will never forget it.

    When I read Shakespeare, I usually get CDs from the library with professional actors reading the lines and I follow along in a gigantic tome. I find it more powerful to hear the words spoken with the proper feeling.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Beth, how smart! I’d never thought of *listening* to Shakespeare as I read him. Huh!

      What plays have stuck with you? 🙂

      • Beth says:

        It gets to be a problem when I start choosing favorite characters based on their voices…:D

        As for plays that have stuck, I’ve seen several:
        Romeo & Juliet, because it was the first Shakespeare play I saw (it was also spectacular). Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins (for sheer technical brilliance and entertainment).
        The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged (for hilarity).

        • sputnitsa says:

          Hahaha! I’ve listened to books on tape–both fiction and non-fiction. The guy reading for the Lord of the Rings made me think Eomer was much older than he is (28), but he did “hardy” well, and it made me rethink the character.

          I wish I could say I’d loved my own first Shakespeare play–but clearly yours was spectacular 🙂

          I remember seeing To Kill a Mockingbird and being just floored, years ago.

          Man, theater rocks!!! Oh, and the abridged Shakespeare sounds hilarious already 🙂 🙂

  7. writerkirsty says:

    (visiting from AW)

    I might see this when I’m in England sooooon!! I think I will die. It sounds amazing. Very jealous of you 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      Kirsty, what country are you in now? It’s in New York through December 6; I’ve no idea where it’s going then. 🙂 It is MAGIC, though. My friend and I are already decided to buy tickets to see it again in December.

      I tell you, I’m still excited about it. 🙂

      (And thanks for coming by from AW! I love your avatar. 🙂 )

  8. dolorescraeg says:

    i saw jude law in london and more recently in new york perform hamlet. i am a very senior senior and inever in 60 years of theatre going have i seen such a performance as mr. law’s….it stayed with me for days. he was electrifying, beyond articulate…just mesmerizing…great production. if you’re in new york do yourself a favor see this play at the broadhurst.

  9. That sounds like such an incredible experience. Lucky you! 🙂

    My favorite Shakespeare play is probably Macbeth. And for a double treat, read Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters afterwards. Hilarious! 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      Heh, of course you’d say this today–as I finish the last book you recommended and right on the cusp of payday, also known as the day I loose myself onto the NYC streets to scavenge new great reads. 🙂

      I wonder what the odds are that the play will travel to you? You’d LOVE it. 🙂

      I love Macbeth too–and Much Ado About Nothing. My three faves, although I can’t say I’ve read half of what he’s written.

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