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Edinburgh review: Hamlet in Bed (Pleasance Courtyard)

Annette O'Toole stars in this problematic study on aspects of Hamlet

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Annette O'Toole and Michael Laurence in Hamlet in Bed

The main reason to see this slim study of aspects of Hamlet is the presence of Annette O'Toole, an actress who was once regularly present on our screens and who - like too many women of a certain generation - is now a rare sighting, thanks to the inherent ageism of Hollywood.

She's terrific here as a grumpy and unhappy headhunter, who returns to her former career as an actress when she's approached by 'Michael' (Michael Laurence, both writer of the piece and its star) to play Gertrude.

Michael's reasons for mounting the production are entirely personal. He has been adopted as a child, and is obsessed with the Prince of Denmark and his relationship with his mother. When a bookseller hands him the diary of an actress who had a child after playing Ophelia, he becomes convinced she is his lost mother, and looks her up.

Enter O'Toole and a punchy succession of scenes in which their relationship develops as they rehearse the closet scene in the play. The best of these functions like a living session of Shakespeare criticism, with the pair fiercely serving up different versions of Gertrude's motivation and behaviour, and O'Toole screaming with rage at her co-star's assumptions of maternal neglect.

But there are problems with the piece. For one thing, the notion that the actress is Michael's mother is never really questioned or justified; for another, just as it begins to take fire, when he reveals that he is her son and she reacts, it ends. This feels like the moment the story between them starts; certainly the expression on O'Toole's face as she realises the truth of the situation, could fill a thousand pages.

As it is, it feels more like a footnote than a fully realised play. But it's well directed by Lisa Peterson, and if you arrive early, you get the pleasure of listening to Richard Burton give you his 'To be or not to be' over the sound system; he and O'Toole hold the mirror up to nature just as the Sweet Prince commanded.

Hamlet in Bed runs at the Pleasance Courtyard at 2.10pm until 29 August (not Tuesdays).

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