Hamlet In Bed, Edinburgh Review

The Danish Prince has provided fertile ground for modern interpretations or as a jumping off point for some other ideas. Directed by Lisa Peterson, Hamlet In Bed focuses on an actor who may have tracked down the woman who put him up for adoption as a baby. The twist is that when she conceived him decades ago, she was playing Ophelia  on a production on Broadway, his father the production's Danish Prince...

Playing Anna May Miller (the former actress who is tracked by her 'son') is Annette O'Toole, seasoned star of the stage and screen. If her name seems a bit too close to her character's, that's nothing compared to her co-star Michael Laurence who also wrote Hamlet In Bed and plays a character called "Michael", rivaling Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman in the meta-theatrical stakes. This blurring of identities and "Is there any truth to any of this?" lends the production an uneasy, atmospheric quality which suits the subject matter.

While the set comprises of some mattresses in the centre of the stage, New York is very much where the play is set and from the way it's described, a character in its own right, a city with a dark, noir-ish underbelly comparable to the "something rotten in the state of Denmark" speech.

Michael's fixation with Anna leads to him setting a 'Mousetrap' of his own, with Anna oblivious to his intentions until too late. While he isn't necessarily a 'bad' person, his single-minded behaviour estranges him from his 'Ophelia'/girlfriend, and seen as an excuse for procrastination in their own relationship.

O'Toole's Anna has more integrity to her, though when we see her first in  the early scenes, we can tell this is a person who has been harbouring her demons for a long time, resorting to heavy drinking to ease her pain.  While Michael's actions are undoubtedly questionable, the subterfuge to get her to play Gertrude to his Hamlet reawakens her initial passion for acting and more importantly, ready to face head-on the emotions and memories that have been bleeding through for untold years.

My personal highlight of the play involves one of the later rehearsal scenes between Anna and Michael, and the difference of opinion about 'Gertrude's motives and feelings. It is at this stage that O'Toole really shines on stage, as she voices her indignation about being told how Gertrude would behave, and shows how Anna (and women in general) often feel about the status quo's stance on Shakespearean female roles versus their own opinions.

As for Michael's ultimate aim, to get to know his mother and confront her about the past, there are different and 'right' ways and means. Certainly he gets some answers, but like the fate of Danish Prince it is a pyrrhic victory at best, as everything else is left in ruins...

© Michael Davis 2016

Hamlet In Bed ran at The Pleasance, Edinburgh from 3rd-29th August 2016.


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