Reviews

Eddie Izzard Performing Hamlet ****

By: Alix Cohen

April 7, 2024: Having presented his solo Great Expectations, Eddie Izzard returns with her one person rendition of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet – all 23 characters.

“I fear some foul play,” she begins eliciting giggles. The audience expects humor and will find it, though this is not a comedic rendition per se. Double entendres seem underlined. Mistaken for a fishmonger, Hamlet mutters “old git!” When Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern speak, Izzard uses his hands as “puppets” so all three characters can converse. At “Gentlemen give me your hand” palms close. The audience laughs. “I will stand idle,” Horatio says leaning against the wall absently whistling.

Eddie Izzard

By: Alix Cohen

April 7, 2024: Having presented his solo Great Expectations, Eddie Izzard returns with her one person rendition of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet – all 23 characters.

“I fear some foul play,” she begins eliciting giggles. The audience expects humor and will find it, though this is not a comedic rendition per se. Double entendres seem underlined. Mistaken for a fishmonger, Hamlet mutters “old git!” When Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern speak, Izzard uses his hands as “puppets” so all three characters can converse. At “Gentlemen give me your hand” palms close. The audience laughs. “I will stand idle,” Horatio says leaning against the wall absently whistling.

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Izzard is a charismatic thespian who gestures. Whether playing man or woman, these tend to be not just graceful, but feminine, drawing additional attention with long red nails. One might wish them distinctive to sex. Still, she must keep us riveted on an empty stage. During this iconoclastic version, we accept the artist’s choice to remain visible. Beyond the feats of focus and memory, interpretation of the bard is captivating. Language is clear and conversational without feeling contemporary; cadence skilled. Dramatic pauses work. Imbuing the piece with more winking humor than I’ve ever seen, the artist is also moving.

Traveling players prance and stumble with lines. Tiptoeing toward the curtain in his mother’s bedroom, the actor puts finger to lips – shhh, he instructs us. Having accidentally killed Polonius, Hamlet wipes the sword and tastes its blood (revenge) residue. IT’S NOT MADNESS!” he shouts, startling us. The ghost is vividly solemn. 

“Hamlet is loved by the irrational multitude,” King Claudius ruefully notes regretting his stepson is not easier to murder. Appreciative laughter ensues from said multitude. Ophelia sings “How Shall I Your True Love Know?” The madness scene is marvelous. Izzard appears aphasic/confused. “How? How? How?” she beats her chest. Always amusing grave diggers’ South London accents add color. The appearance of poison is deftly mimed. Gertrude’s death is only aural, eschewing the collapse of a body. Battle with rapier and dagger is believable, not vaudevillian.  

Photo by Amanda Searle

Though quite a bit has been seamlessly taken out of this Hamlet, it could successfully be 20 minutes shorter. Otherwise, Mark Izzard’s adaptation runs smoothly with next to no awareness of omission. It is necessary to be familiar the play.

Director Selena Cadell (with movement director Didi Hopkins) gives us mercurially morphing characters and a soloist who whirls, walks, leaps and leans with purpose. Breaking of the fourth wall is expertly employed. The piece is visually varied. Realization of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at the same time as Prince Hamlet is inspired. Pacing is superb.

Tom Piper’s scenic design (a starkly evocative blank canvas) in collusion with Tyler Elich’s extremely creative lighting, sound design (no credit) and Eliza Thompson’s music composition are aesthetically and dramatically as good as it gets.

Costume styling by Tom Piper and Libby da Costa straddles both period and persona. Fight director J. Allen Suddeth astonishingly creates two men with swords and knives.

Eddie Izzard Performing Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Mark Izzard
Directed by Selina Cadell
Orpheum Theatre    
126 Second Avenue
Through April 15, 2024
Opening Photo: Amanda Searle