'Izzard Hamlet New York' review: A solo show that's more noble than wise

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'Izzard Hamlet New York' review: A solo show that's more noble than wise
Eddie Izzard, who is playing all of the roles in “Hamlet,” at the Greenwich House Theater in Manhattan on Jan. 24, 2024. Izzard is a wildly witty ad-libber, but a play straitjackets this gift — especially in this new staging that is short of ideas. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

by Jason Zinoman

NEW YORK, NY.- To laugh, or not to laugh? That is the question.

Or at least one you may consider early in Eddie Izzard’s “Hamlet,” in which the comic portrays all the roles herself.

Something is certainly a little silly about dramatizing Hamlet fighting with his mother by having a left hand wrestle with the arm of the right, evoking Peter Sellers’ scientist who struggles to restrain himself from raising his arm in Nazi salute in “Dr. Strangelove.” And solo sword fights have possibilities that a brilliant comedian like Izzard might exploit.

Yet, as Izzard darts around the stage, from role to role, hopscotching in and out of the audience declaiming speeches, what becomes clear is this frenetic staging is earnest, surprisingly traditional and deadly serious. A wildly witty ad-libber, Izzard can make two-hour monologues feel like a stream-of-conscious eruption. A play straitjackets this gift. Except for a few flourishes, this staging, directed by Selina Cadell, is short of ideas. (Imagine sock puppets without the socks and you get an idea of her Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.)

Inside a modern, minimalist set (designed by Tom Piper) with no props, Izzard, who mounted a solo theatrical adaptation of “Great Expectations” last year, sometimes represents changing characters by spinning, other times by just moving a few feet. If there is method here, I did not detect it. If you don’t know “Hamlet,” there is no chance you are going to follow the play within a play. If you do, you might wonder why Izzard doesn’t spend more time playing the characters watching, not talking.

Among the occasionally overlooked qualities of the Danish prince is that he can be very funny, especially when mean. But you wouldn’t know it in this production, adapted by Izzard’s brother, Mark. Izzard is an even-keeled Hamlet. She doesn’t elongate vowels or spit out consonants, rarely yells or expresses contempt. She appears to be pacing herself throughout. Despite wearing dark vinyl pants, this is a very tweedy performance. The best Hamlets (such as that of Andrew Scott, who, in a sign of a trend or maybe a growing need for inexpensive casts, recently performed a one-man “Uncle Vanya”) dramatize the act of thinking, but that interiority is lacking here.

Instead of taking Hamlet’s famous acting advice to not “saw the air” too much, Izzard favors gesticulating and thrusting her hips to indicate something sexual has been said. She adopts a working-class voice for the gravedigger scene, but otherwise doesn’t try dramatic shifts in accents, voice or physicality.

Izzard famously picked up marathon running recently, and even completed 32 in a month. It’s a remarkable feat, but this one might be tougher — and it shows. (On the night I attended, Izzard flubbed several lines and appeared to be breathing hard during this endurance test of a play.) One comes away with the sense that Eddie Izzard didn’t perform “Hamlet” so much as become defeated by it.

‘Izzard Hamlet New York’Through March 16 at Greenwich House Theater, Manhattan; eddieizzardhamlet.com. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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