Hamlet in Bed, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Michael, a typical New York City lost soul, is obsessed with Hamlet. He knows the play inside out and pours over every bit of scholarship he can find on it. His neighbourhood secondhand bookseller puts anything aside that he might be interested in and this time, he’s struck gold. A diary from forgotten ex-actor Anna May Miller details her rehearsals for Hamlet, a failed relationship and a child she put up for adoption on the day Michael was born. The orphaned man, desperate for a mother and to enact his perfect version of Hamlet, creates an elaborate scheme to cover both bases in Hamlet in Bed.

What is more of a treatise on Shakespeare’s play than a journey of personal discovery is also a creepy, misogynistic story of stalking and entitlement. The two interweaving storylines are given equal measure by writer Michael Laurence, resulting in neither reaching full potential, though Annette O’Toole gives an electric performance as Anna May.

The imagery-laden beginning of the script is a feast for the ears. Though the start makes for a great aural experience, the best scene is an extended rehearsal for Michael’s Hamlet where a debate on the characters’ intentions becomes a thinly veiled filter for their own issues and insecurities. Also, the scholarship on display in this scene is in-depth and spot-on. An anti-climactic end is a lost opportunity for Anna May to condemn his self-centred exploitation of her weaknesses, which creates an uneasy feeling that his actions are deemed acceptable. There are also entirely too many coincidences to make the story believable, and a few occasions where choices aren’t fully explained or justified.

Though the story revolves around Michael, played by Laurence, O’Toole’s performance completely dominates his. It’s not at all to do with any shortcomings on his part, but a total mastery of craft on hers. The privilege of seeing a stage and screen legend in an intimate venue at least partially alleviates the problems in the script.

With questionable themes and a script that can’t decide what it wants to be about, Hamlet in Bed has several glaring flaws that a re-write would be able to solve. Despite these, O’Toole’s performance is fantastic, and great to watch.

Hamlet in Bed runs through 29th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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Hamlet, Ophelia – Part One, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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What would Hamlet have been like as a child? Ophelia? Were they close? Did they squabble or were they the best of friends? Shakespearian Lovers, a new female-led company from Italy, attempt to answer these questions in Hamlet, Ophelia – Part One. In this version Hamlet is played by a woman, bringing a quiet, feminine sensitivity to the role considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest. Despite performing in their second language, the two women have a sound connection with the contemporary English text that shows the two grow from playful children to adults at Gertrude’s wedding to her second husband. There are some major issues with staging and the ending needs work, but this gentle, little play stays true to Hamlet’s personality as reflected in Shakespeare’s text and has the strong foundations of a good script.

Of the two performers, the perky Ophelia is the stronger. She has a natural curiosity and handles the English script comfortably. Hamlet is much more reserved and often too quiet to easily hear, but she has an intellectual intensity that suits the character. Though Hamlet’s femininity is not disguised, masculine pronouns are used throughout – the relationship in this piece wouldn’t differ from one gender to the other, Ophelia is clearly female but Hamlet’s ambiguity interferes with any potential statement about his gender.

The script has a sensible progression through childhood and into adulthood. They play as equals but as they grow, the difference between the son of a king and the daughter of a minister informs their interactions. The affection they have for each other is genuine and heartwarming, though the circumstances life deals them requires formal restraint, even through teenage hormones. The ending needs development and resolution in order to emphasise why the it is where it is, and the reason why this story is being told needs clarification, but the characterisation is sound.

The staging is the primary issue with this production. The venue is too small to allow space to be clearly differentiated through either distance or lighting and there is no backstage. Private moments lose their intimacy and physical expression is restricted, particularly when they are playing, and Hamlet tries to express his grief for his father’s death.

This is some promising work from a new international company. Even though a native English speaker’s advice would be useful to sort out a few minor mispronunciations, the confidence and ability both actors display in performing in a foreign language is impressive. With additional work on the script and fully realised staging, this has potential to be a great two-hander.

Hamlet, Ophelia – Part One runs through 28th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Scorched, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Jack, feeble in body and mind, wiles away the days watching news broadcasts from operation Desert Storm. The former WWII soldier, now safe and looked after in a care home, vividly recounts memories from his youth and on the front line. He may not be aware of the present, but his past is ever present and will not let me rest. Solo show Scorched is a moving and honest look at veterans’ experiences of combat and ageing, leaving the troubling feeling that society is not fulfilling its responsibility to this vulnerable demographic.

Lisle Turner’s script, inspired by her grandfather’s life, is an expressionistic snapshot of his thoughts at the twilight of his life. Stationed in Egypt during the war, we hear tales of heat, explosions, and beautiful women interspersed with memories from his childhood. The storyline is loosely constructed; it is episodic rather than wholly linear. This structure works well considering that these are Jack’s memories he plays out for himself rather than for an audience arbitrarily included in the action without being allocated any clear identity.

There are some beautiful design elements: Jack remembers tattooing himself and this is projected on his arm rather than shown with makeup. To see something normally considered permanent conveyed through an ephemeral form is a fitting reminder that nothing truly lasts forever and Jack is nearly at the end of his life. The loveliest of other whimsical projections is on a cascade of sand poured from a dinner tray. This sand is everywhere, like the memories that cling onto Jack’s deteriorating mind and are constantly discovered in unsuspecting places – a clever device either by Turner or director Claire Coache. A simple puppet is used well but not enough, as are mundane objects that transform into others more exciting – an umbrella becomes a fishing rod, a footstool is a motorbike. This object manipulation is a lovely surprise and suits Jack’s mental state well, so it could be utilised further to comment on the childhood of old age.

Robin Berry plays Jack with power and pathos, initially with a delicate frailty that gives way to a younger, more powerful man who enjoys boxing, horse riding, dancing and defending his country. Berry has a strong physical presence that is eminently watchable and a range that makes him believe both as the older and younger Jack.

Strengthening and streamlining the staging and theatrical devices will help make the script feel less like a random collection of memories, and reordering some of scenes would also have the same effect. Jack is a fantastic character and the play is a fitting tribute to elderly veterans, though also serves to pay homage to a generation that soon will no longer be with us.

Scorched runs through 29th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.