'Hamlet' review — Eddie Izzard stars in a one-person adaptation of the tragedy

Read our review of Eddie Izzard in Hamlet off Broadway, which is currently playing a limited engagement at the Greenwich House Theatre through March 10.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

If anyone can handle a one-person version of Hamlet, it would be Eddie Izzard, the whip-smart, lightning-speed comedian known for both stand-up and a recent one-person Great Expectations. Izzard reunites with that production's director, Selina Cadell, in this show that, while shorter than the full text, still lags in spots as Izzard tries to catch her breath.

The production’s faults don’t rest with Izzard the performer, who delivers a masterclass in acting with simplicity and care. They instead rest with Izzard the celebrity persona, who dives into the one-person tragedy as though it were a contest, trying to prove herself the best at something no one was challenging.

As the play begins, Izzard elicits laughter by bopping from one side to the other as different characters verbally sparring with herself. Her hands serve as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, chirping and falling to her sides as they exit. Izzard’s acting choices continue to impress from there: Stripped down and self-aware as her own counterbalance, she frees herself from the burden of conventions that plague so many actors tackling the Bard.

Her subtle changes in tone and approach for each character give us ample time to contemplate the brilliance of the text and its many layers; rarely have I seen an actor tackle Ophelia without feeling like they were trying too hard to be simple and naïve, or as though Gertrude were not being mocked.

But Izzard's initial energy proves unsustainable over the course of five acts (adapter Mark Izzard cuts down Shakespeare’s text into two, but the meat of all five remains). Cadell’s choice to leave the stage bare gives audiences nowhere to direct their eyes but Izzard, who, for all her bravado and semantic precision, fails as the only recipient of our focus.

The lack of any set pieces or props – Izzard mimes her own rapiers as both Hamlet and Laertes in the final scene – begs too much of our attention. The green light of King Hamlet’s ghost from lighting designer Tyler Elich sometimes draws Izzard through the audience and up to the mezzanine, but these occurrences are too few and far between. For the most part, we watch Izzard alone, backing herself into a corner to regroup between scenes.

More physicality would have been better throughout the 2.5-hour adaptation. Her tootling gravedigger provides not only comedic relief but also the most movement of the show, as Izzard enters and exits the grave in a two-sided, one-person conversation toward the end of the play.

Hamlet is at the Greenwich House Theatre through March 16.

Photo credit: Eddie Izzard in Hamlet. (Photo by Amanda Searle)

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