Eddie Izzard battens down the hatches at Navy Pier for Hamlet

Sun. April 21, 2024 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn

Tony Award-nominated performer Eddie Izzard brings Hamlet back to life at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater this spring. Part of the process of developing the playwright's iconic play to modern audiences has Izzard portraying 23 characters in a dazzling one-woman show at Navy Pier.

For those that are unfamiliar with the gender-fluid artist, Izzard is living proof of the Hamlet quote “to thine own self be true” and is an example of someone not fitting into a societal box. Life has been a journey that continues for this complex individual who is leaning into “girl mode” these days using female pronouns and the name Suzy much of the time.

She has received several honorary doctorates, speaks multiple languages, and if that isn't enough Izzard is a marathon enthusiast with millions of miles under her belt.

One of her biggest influences in her career has been British comedy troupe Monty Python and that shows with her unique rendition of Hamlet. The painted performer entered the bare set on opaque steps black tight pants, a high heel and a shimmery, regal jacket. The backdrop was designed by Tom Piper who also curated Izzard's outfit. The set consisted of a simple platform stage that was thrust into the western half of the room to facilitate intimacy and this resulted in fewer seats for the patrons within this modern venue. She was given the freedom to focus on the text without the added distractions of conventional props and furniture. Viewers could close their eyes and listen to the prose lifted from Shakespeare's iconic work as Izzard relished each moment. Transitions were depicted by lighting changes from Tyler Elich that were often subtle and then would flip like a switch to provide a dramatic turn.

The adventure began at a slower pace then eventually wry humor was sprinkled in. Ticket holders needed to pay attention and listen to grasp the intention of a team that doesn't suffer fools.

Playing multiple parts is a skill that Izzard has acquired over the years and pantomime continues to be an important part of her act. The popular characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were conveyed with invisible hand puppets instead of felt-made creations. Local audiences happen to be fortunate these days as Court Theatre's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is playing nearby for those who desire to pursue more on the dynamic duo.

“The rub” of choosing to not involve multiple cast members or physical props comes with the fact that the solo act is carrying everything on her shoulders. This is noticeable with a workout during one section of fight choreography where Izzard works herself up into a tizzy by dueling with herself.

At curtain call, Izzard opened up about the passion project and completed her Windy City supporters. Her background in street performance and the world of stand-up has paid off with the sometimes challenging text being conveyed trippingly from her tongue. It's fascinating to watch her mind work as she interacts with herself through observational humor and realistic reactions.

Shakespeare's longest play could benefit from vocal variances to differentiate the multitude of personalities along the way and by adding some colorful costume changes to engage viewers. These are minor quibbles though and if The Bard of Avon were alive today he would be curious to see what is “to be or not to be” in this modern execution of Hamlet.

Hamlet bids adieu on May 4, 2024, so spend your ducats at before it's too late. “Get thee to a nunnery” and Navy Pier indeed!