Once again I have the privilege of reviewing a Michael Laurence text, this particular piece drawing inspiration from that constantly re-imagined Shakespearian theatre staple – Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. This play centres around an actor obsessively consumed by the lead role, to the point where he considers himself to be a living incarnation of the Dane and he defines his relationships and psychology accordingly. The closet scene where Hamlet “speaks daggers” to Queen Gertrude becomes the protagonist’s own “Mousetrap”, in which he attempts to ensnare the actress whom he believes to be his natural mother.
Lighting is used effectively. Unusually, the audience is illuminated for a large chunk of the action in what I assume is an attempt to recreate theatre rehearsal conditions (this I appreciated doubly, since it made it easier to scribble down thoughts on my notepad).
Annette O’Toole’s character is seen only in shadow as she runs back and forth across the stage from one drunken escapade to the next during the first ten minutes of the show. She is then lit to deliver her opening monologue in which she relates her own Freudian preoccupations with an abusive father. O’Toole steals the show with a vast arsenal of theatrical temperaments and her dynamic vocal range. She captures both the youthful spaced-out Ophelia whom the character plays as a teenager, and the cynical, worldly-wise Gertrude with careful authenticity.
There are scattered moments of meta-theatrics besides the source material’s play within a play. Having seen Laurence’s Krapp, 39 just hours beforehand, it was obvious to see that when one enters his plays one is also entering into the Michael Laurence universe, with each productions serving as episodes in an interconnected and fictionalised world to which the playwright is continually adding. Again this a play whose climax centres around a birthday, and Laurence’s “nunnery” anecdote is strikingly similar to a peep show tangent in Krapp.
While the play is a thrilling watch with an appealing premise, one cannot escape the feeling of being “played upon.” The plot is somewhat inevitable, and for all the terrific acting and the extra vigour afforded to Shakespeare’s words by the Freudian modern subtext, this play draws too much from its source material. What should be a tense examination of the psychologically damaged actor elicits laughter from an audience that has seen it all before.
Image: courtesy of production