SUPER HAMLET 64
Artrix, Bromsgrove, Friday 21st September, 2018
I don’t know how many Hamlets I have seen, sat through, endured or enjoyed over the years, but this one appealed straight away: a mix-up of the play and computer games… It could work, and by golly, it does!
I’m more of a Shakespeare nerd than a games geek (if that’s the correct nomenclature) but even I get the references to famous figures such as the Mario Brothers, Pac-Man, Crash Bandicoot and so on – and I have a lot of fun identifying lines from the original Shakespeare (Hamlet and other plays) as the play throws new light on them.
The show is the brainchild of solo performer Edward Day. Armed only with a ukulele against a backdrop on which are projected game menus, scenes, captions and characters. Cleverly, we can monitor Hamlet’s grief levels… It all fits together beautifully and is held together by a charismatic performance from Day, who exudes a kind of affable intensity. Day is highly skilled, displaying vocal dexterity in portraying a range of characters, a strong and pleasant singing voice (the songs borrow tunes from the games), and an impressive physicality, moving like a games avatar in a platform game, all exquisitely timed to interact with the animations (which are also by Day).
Hamlet’s father is represented by Mario – here, ‘Hario’ which naturally makes his brother Luigi the evil Claudius. Gertrude is Princess Peach and Ophelia a sword-swinging Samurai… The acts are levels Hamlet works through; there is a dazzling sequence in which he levels up his language skills so that at last he is equipped to deliver a soliloquy. This is intelligent stuff and I marvel at the inventiveness on display. It is also very funny.
Day is so appealing that even when it comes to audience participation, we don’t feel the usual sense of dread. Hamlet, faced by a horde of zombies (us) goes on a killing spree and it’s hilarious. The crowd tonight is a select bunch of good sports. An English teacher beside me declares the show would be an excellent tool to get boys into Shakespeare. But there is more to the piece than even that. Poetry abounds, both Shakespeare’s and Day’s, and along with the surprises that make us marvel and laugh, moments of profundity appear. Life is a game, the play tells us, but we only get one shot at it. Playing for survival isn’t enough.
A truly wonderful piece of theatre, entertaining, enlightening and enormously enjoyable. Day is clearly a genius. I cannot recommend it enough.
This review appears in association with theatrebloggers.co.uk