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Law's puckish interpretation of Hamlet is a palpable hit

HAMLET<br /><strong>Wyndhams Theatre</strong><br />THE second major celebrity to lift Yorrick&rsquo;s skull this year, Jude Law has more at stake than David Tennant, after too many mediocre films and bad tabloid headlines. Luckily, in making the opening night without slipping a disc he&rsquo;s already outdone the Timelord &ndash; and as it happens, he carries off Hamlet rather well.<br /><br />Law&rsquo;s disadvantage on screen can be a lack of gravitas, and there are times when that transfers to the stage too &ndash; his wiry frame and weedy voice seem at first to be less than a match to the part&rsquo;s complexities. But he makes up for this with an energetic performance, handling Hamlet&rsquo;s intricate fluctuations in mood with great dexterity. Puckish and wily one minute, taught and vengeful the next, there&rsquo;s a fluidity and intelligence to his acting that&rsquo;s as unexpected as it is captivating.<br /><br />He&rsquo;s helped tremendously by Michael Grandage&rsquo;s handsome production. The set, of great stone castle walls with two vast doors at the rear, uses scale to emphasise the play&rsquo;s vertiginous moral questions. Law delivers the &ldquo;To be or not to be&rdquo; soliloquy from the back of the stage, shrunken against the wall amidst a beautiful snowfall effect, crushed by the weight of his troubles.<br /><br />Kevin McNally makes a nicely self-satisfied Claudius, and Penelope Wilton is on fine form as Gertrude, all hand-wringing indecision and weak-willed vanity. A less successful note is struck by Alex Waldman as a rather gauche Laertes, who sucks the drama out of the final scene. It must be said too that, as ever with this play, things lag a bit in the peculiar fourth act. But it&rsquo;s a very fine production, anchored by Law&rsquo;s sterling performance.<br />Timothy Barber<br /><br />ARCADIA<br /><strong>Duke of York Theatre</strong><br />First staged in 1993, Tom Stoppard&rsquo;s play goes on a joyride through chaos theory, romantic poets, landscape gardening, Fermat&rsquo;s last theorem, the upper classes, adultery, hunting, literary criticism and any number of other themes, tied to the writer&rsquo;s virtuoso wordplay and wit. It swirls, dazzles and sometimes thrills, but its eventual, conciliatory grasp at emotional resonance comes up short.<br /><br />Set in the same room of a country pile in both 1809 and the present, it follows two jousting academics as they seek to solve mysteries left behind in notes and letters by a young mathematical genius, her tutor and his friend Lord Byron, once a visitor to the house. They stumble upon naive attempts to solve the problems of the universe, before such problems were known.<br /><br />The modern cast, led by Neil Pearson and Samantha Bond as the academics, takes a while to warm up, acting honours going to Dan Stevens as the tutor and Nancy Carroll as the mistress of the house. It doesn&rsquo;t move the heart, but it&rsquo;s fun to sit back and watch Stoppard show off nonetheless.<br />TB