Jude Law’s Hamlet does not go quietly into the night.
He rants. He rails. He seizes Shakespeare’s most famous play by its well-known soliloquies and doesn’t let go. The actor’s turbocharged performance as the anguished Danish prince is not particularly subtle, but it’s well-spoken and clear. And eminently watchable.
Sort of like the rest of the stylish Donmar Warehouse production of “Hamlet,” which arrived Tuesday on Broadway after engagements in London and Denmark’s Kronborg Castle in Elsinore (the setting of the play).
That clarity of storytelling is an advantage in a production that runs more than three hours. But then director Michael Grandage has not loaded down the play with gimmicks that distract from the lengthy tale. Text is all. First-timers will have no trouble following the plot.
Law’s Hamlet is a man outraged, a quality he lets no one else on stage forget — whether this hotheaded young man is admonishing Gertrude, his mother; spewing venom at Claudius, his usurping uncle; mocking the befuddled royal confidant Polonius; or lasciviously attacking the benighted Ophelia, his true love.
That outrage rarely disappears, except perhaps when he is confronting the ghost of his murdered father (played by the vocally plummy Peter Eyre) or examining the skull of the long-departed Yorick, his father’s court jester.
Law’s performance is also very physical — and not just during his big showdown with Laertes, Ophelia’s avenging brother, at the end of the evening. He prowls the nearly empty stage of the Broadhurst Theatre as if he were a man possessed.
Other cast members offer variable support. Kevin R. McNally’s remorse-filled Claudius is particularly effective as is Geraldine James’ chilly, calculating Gertrude. Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ophelia looks lovely but her mental collapse is not as affecting as it could be, especially when measured against Hamlet’s emotionally striking outbursts.
Ron Cook’s Polonius is colorless, barely getting the humor and even less of the heart in this endearing character, whose death should be met with considerable grief. Yet Grandage has staged this memorable scene with remarkable invention, turning it inside out — with the audience watching Polonius eavesdrop on Hamlet and his mother instead of the other way around.
Designer Christopher Oram’s somber gray settings are occasionally flecked with some eye-pleasing effects: a gentle falling of snow during Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, a river of red curtain cascading down the back wall during a court scene.
The handsome Law looks, of course, sensational, dressed by Oram in rather hip outfits that would not be out of place in one of downtown New York’s trendier nightspots. The whole cast is clothed in what could called vaguely modern dress that still manages to cleverly evoke a more distant past.
But the show’s star is more than just well-turned-out in designer duds. Law has marched fearlessly through one of the great roles in dramatic literature — maybe the greatest — and done a credible job in making it his own.