The Defective Inspector tore himself away from the computer screen for a day to go to a play... about video games, as he watched Super Hamlet 64 by Edward Day...
Okay, so here was the situation. I was sitting on my ass (very normal) playing the most recent game trying to work out how to make it Twitch. I then get contacted by the mighty boss of AlbieMedia and they tell me someone is doing a play about games… And Hamlet… In Bristol. Considering the only culture in my life was forming in the fridge I was confuse, but I also intrigued…. So, I decided to go see how good a mash-up of games and Shakespeare could be, I am so glad I did.
I trucked up to a small micro-theatre located in the posher corner of Bristol. On a hot summer’s day, I slide into this 30-odd seat theatre with limited air conditioning. Displayed before me a barrage of pixels and retro-bleep music acting as a loading screen before the show began. You can tell the audience was split in the room. I could hear people behind me trying to identify all the video game references before the show even started while the other spoke in an aristocratic accent. This divide in target audience was my biggest worry, despite some cliff note revision of my Year 10 English homework I had little to go on when it came to Hamlet. I was worried for Edward Day, he had created something which was potentially very polar.
So how did the show go? Super Hamlet 64 was a one-man show with Day using clever screen work and a Wii remote to progress the story and plot. Using pre-recorded footage, a single projector (with multiple screens) and an abundance of energy Day was able to express the story of Hamlet through a gamer-like lens. What I am saying is the plot was loosely the same as Hamlet but with some creative freedom when using video game references. For example, Hamlet’s father (traditionally called ‘the Ghost’) was played by Mario with an appropriately ludicrous accent while the new King Claudius was played by Luigi, with an equally ludicrous accent. Being a lover of games I spotted an abundance of references from start to finish. Could I name them all? Yes, but frankly I don’t have the word count or time to do so. Luckily, they were not too diverting when it came to Hamlet itself. With the exclusion of the ending (which I WILL NOT ruin) the story is relatively similar. The death of a Father figure, the madness of Hamlet and so forth… It’s all pretty close in a strange pixelated way. What really hooked me was neither the games or the Shakespeare, but instead it was Edward himself.
Day was a rubbery appendage, highly energetic, innovator who somehow mixed two very different worlds without being excessively ridiculous. Lovingly Day provides a few of his songs from the show for your viewing pleasure, but the context and dramatic effect is truly lost without being there in person. What’s worth coming for however is still Edward; he has a musical talent worth acknowledging and enough acting skills to carry a show alone. Beyond video games and Hamlet, Day also injects a lot of himself into the show occasionally making clear references to his own life and thoughts on the world. It can get a bit deep, bordering on ostentatious, but seeing into the actor’s mind was a welcomed change to most theatre productions I see. The battles with mental health, the question of life choices, all touched on gingerly as to not lose momentum. While there is a lot going on I never felt the focus was split. The Bard, Gamer and Edward elements of the production intermeshed together like a well-constructed bastion rather than a deck of cards, and that must be commended. A lesser man would pander to one audience excessively for attention, but Edward doesn’t comprise, the show is as it should be and he knows it.
But I am a reviewer, I must be critical occasionally and I had a few notes. One criticism, which is a given, is without reading through my ol’ Hamlet homework I don’t think I would have gotten all the references. Remember those two audiences I mentioned? You could hear the upper-crust guffaw during Bard references and the gamers fall silent. Vice versa also occurred when Crash Bandicoot started goofily quoting segments of the play. While it can enjoyable for many audiences I can imagine some getting lost in the mixture and become disengaged. Too often the show portrays the wacky alongside the serious and it was difficult to may them both together and it could leave the audience unsure about how to digest the content. For example, there was a scene where audience participation was encouraged, and it didn’t go as well as Edward expected. I spoke to him post-show and he agreed it was a less rowdy group compared to the norm and usually the silliness of fake-shooting a front-row observer was well received. It may have been “one of those nights” but I can only comment on what I saw. There is also the threat of changing too much about Hamlet to make the plot fit, while I loved the ending (clever, smart, emotional, funny) I imagine some people cursing Edward for sacrilege.
Even with these thoughts in mind, I’d recommend anyone with interest in Hamlet or games to give it a try. The originality alone is worthy of consideration but if you include the skills portrayed by Edward, both during the performance and in its ultimate assembly, it’s something you need to see to believe. While there is a chance of periodic head scratching I think the well balanced, highly entertaining and very original concept is enough for anyone to enjoy. I would love to see what other projects Edward has for the future, his creative flare is something worth following.
Images from Edwardday.co.uk
Find out more about Super Hamlet 64 at https://www.edwardday.co.uk/superhamlet64