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.
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