HAMLET: The Video Game (the stage show)
22/08/2017 - 23/08/2017
04/10/2017 - 07/10/2017
03/06/2017 - 24/06/2017
Shakespeare/Video Game Parody Reloaded at The Court Theatre
Ready player one? Hamlet: The Video Game (the stage show) is reloaded and powered up for an explosive return season at The Forge at The Court Theatre this June.
The remastered classic is a comedic mash-up of genres stuffed full of references and jokes for both gamers and Shakespeare buffs. The show reimagines the theatrical masterpiece Hamlet as if it had been turned into an A-list video game, with the Prince of Denmark’s introspective soliloquies blended with mortal combat, zombies and a final boss battle.
Hamlet: The Video Game (the stage show) is the brainchild of former Court Jester and now Montrealbased video game director, Simon Peacock (Voice Director of Assassin’s Creed; Voice & Motion Capture Director of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided). Commissioned for the 2015 Christchurch Arts Festival, the production scored highly with audiences in its debut season and was swiftly programmed for a replay in The Forge.
Original cast members Dan Bain, Kathleen Burns and Jared Corbin, all members of The Court Theatre’s entertainment troupe The Court Jesters, reprise their roles in the production. “The first season was like ‘beta testing’ a new video game,” says Bain, who is relishing his second playthrough as Hamlet. “From people’s reactions we could take what worked, get rid of what didn’t and hone it into a faster, funnier show. It’s taken it to another level.”
Gregory Cooper, a former Court Jester, prolific performer and successful playwright, is enjoying directing the new season. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get the chance again to direct a version of Hamlet with thirty Nerf guns, confetti blood and audience-operated Angry Birds, so I’m making the most of it. This reboot will be faster, funnier, more frenetic and guaranteed glitch-free.”
“This play is treat for theatre lovers who can be captivated by its theatricality but also appeals to those who may well have never been near a theatre before,” says The Court Theatre’s Artistic Director, Ross Gumbley. “It has something for everyone. It’s a delight for all.”
Hamlet: The Video Game (the stage show) uses quick-change costumes designed by Nicholas Wakerley that allow the actors to play a multitude of roles; a game-inspired set designed by Rob Hood; and a plethora of weaponry constructed by The Court’s props team. In true video game style, the production also incorporates numerous audio visual elements created by Andrew Todd, who designed AV for the original season. “We’ve embraced the multimedia nature of the show and use it to add extra jokes and enhance the performances” says Todd.
Hamlet: The Video Game (the stage show) opens at The Forge on June 3 and runs until June 24, with plans to take the production further afield. Audience members are encouraged to visit The Court Theatre and insert coins to play.
The Pub Charity Studio at The Court Theatre
3 June – 24 June 2017
Show Times: Mondays, Thursdays 7pm | Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays & Saturdays 8pm
All tickets $26
Bookings: phone 03 963 0870 or visit www.courttheatre.org.nz
Contains coarse language, recommended for ages 13+
TARANAKI ARTS FESTIVAL 2017
Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace
Tues, Aug 22, 7pm
Wed, Aug 23, 6pm
HAMLET: The Video Game (The Stage Show) plays:
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre
Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 October, 11am and 7pm
Recommended for ages 10+
Tickets: Child $20; Adult $32 (service fees apply)
For more info visit aucklandlive.co.nz/show/hamlet-the-video-game
Playwright Simon Peacock
Director Gregory Cooper
Stage Manager/Operator Ashlyn Smith
Set Designer Rob Hood
Properties Manager Christy Lassen
Properties Technician Mike Beer
Lighting Designer Giles Tanner
Composer/Sound Designer Hamish Oliver
AV Designer Andrew Todd
Costume Designer Nicholas Wakerley
1 hr 15 mins
Clever concept well executed
Review by Leigh Sykes 05th Oct 2017
As we enter the theatre, Hamish Oliver is playing live music and the huge video screen welcomes us to ‘Bard-Ass Games’. I am immediately tickled by the play on words and guess (rightly as it turns out) that some game-related, Shakespeare-inspired word-play will be an important element of the show. With my own affection for Shakespeare and my 11-year old companion’s love for video games, we seem to fit the target demographic for this high concept show.
The show begins with an un-named soldier encountering the ghost of Hamlet’s father and soon turns into the obligatory game tutorial, overseen in this instance by Horatio. Our plucky soldier learns how to punch, kick and use the knee, with repeated exclamations of ‘good job!’ raising lots of laughs from the audience. Unfortunately, all the training is to no avail as our soldier is killed in a rain of confetti and a new main character has to be spawned.
Audience participation is encouraged from the beginning, as we help to customise the newly spawned Hamlet (played with game-hero gravitas by Dan Bain), by choosing looks for torso, head, and hands from an interesting range of items. I suspect the performers are looking for specific reactions from the audience, so the items chosen are the ones that will payoff later in the show, but Kathleen Burns and Jared Corbin (who play all the other characters throughout the show) do a great job of persuading us that our choices are random.
All the characters are visually distinct (with cleverly-designed costumes by Nicholas Wakerly making it possible for Burns and Corbin to jump between characters quickly and effectively) and I recognise character aspects and looks from classic games such as Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat and Call of Duty (among many more, I’m sure) while aspects of Tetris, Angry Birds and platform games like Super Mario are used as challenges that Hamlet must overcome.
As our customised Hamlet gains achievements such as ‘To be’, and continues to increase his game score, recognisable game characters are used to comic effect, such as the replacement of Rosencrantz and Guildensternwith Wolfenstein and Mario. Ophelia channels Tekken’s Nina Williams with exactly the right amount of cleavage and firepower, and is an AI construct created and programmed by Polonius. Her story is as constrained as that of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, but Burns’ clever performance manages to make us feel for Ophelia as she mourns the death of her creator/father and is forced to undergo a hard reboot.
The game references continue to come thick and fast throughout the show, sometimes threatening to overwhelm the storyline, yet there is definitely care about the way that the game elements are used. As is standard for any game hero, Hamlet’s quest sees him gain power and experience through overcoming challenges. His confrontation with Norwegian soldiers is repeated until he gets the game play right, generating plenty of enjoyment for the audience, and he uses some carefully chosen game aspects to advance the story (I particularly enjoy the play within the play, or, in this case, game within the game).
The show does take a very broad brush approach to its characters, making some aspects highly visible. For example, Horatio rides in on a rainbow-coloured scooter with glittery pom-poms on the handle bars, and so we are not terribly surprised to find that he is very attracted to Hamlet. Part of me wonders if this is a stereotype too far, but I think this is actually a reflection of the fairly simple world of games where there is little depth to the characters or the visual presentation of them.
It is pleasing that the show tackles some of the less agreeable aspects of gaming, when Gertrude highlights the over-sexualised and unrealistic nature of female game characters as she takes Hamlet through the finer points of female ‘armour’. Her question of whether he really does want to borrow what amounts to “a couple of pie plates, some dental floss and a flannel” in order to protect himself in the fight to come is received warmly by the audience.
Overall, this is a clever concept that uses video game tropes effectively to create a pretty faithful telling of the story of Hamlet. Simon Peacock has worked hard to include as many video game titles as possible throughout the show, helpfully alerting us with a sound effect and a cast response every time he succeeds. It is clear that there is great affection for both Shakespeare and video games from the care that has been taken with the storyline of the show.
My companion enjoys the action a great deal, and I enjoy the humour and the word-play. This is a well-executed show, enhanced by some very clever AV (designed by Andrew Todd) and solid performances. It is very pleasing to see so many young people in the audience, enjoying the show, so if you and your family members like games or Shakespeare, this could be the show for you.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
A clever concept let down in the execution
Review by Victoria Kerr 23rd Aug 2017
This parody of a game show using Shakespeare’s Hamlet for inspiration is a clever concept which had me intrigued. The opening credits set the tone with a “Welcome to the Bard-Ass Games”. The premise is that the audience will playtest the demo version with the audience exhorted to “play the game and help us refine the experience.” With the aid of video display the audience are encouraged to create and outfit Hamlet, the video game character, although the choices are limited and largely signalled by the supporting actor.
There are many clever moments and ideas within this show with a number of puns, such as “the game plays the thing”, bawdy sexual innuendo, interesting characterisation with Ophelia as an AI robot and construct, Polonius as an archetypal ‘Chinaman’ and Yorick as a zombie to name a few. The Gaming references are splattered throughout and signalled appropriately by a ding, Hamlet overloading with weaponry in his quest for revenge, achievements at each stage of the ‘game’ and effective supporting gaming visuals. Ophelia’s suicide is cleverly turned to a failed reboot, ‘ctrl-alt-delete’ and the subsequent error message.
There is also some audience involvement but not the interactive experience it was purported to be. There are hints at some of the psycho-sexual interpretations of Shakespeare’s original play with a homosexual Horatio desperately attracted to Hamlet and Hamlet’s Oedipal reaction to his mother, Gertrude.
There is also a nod to feminism with robot Ophelia being programmed to obey her father and Gertrude opining the choice of battle gear for female characters in video games is too skimpy. This latter message is undermined somewhat by the continuous scrolling background of said characters with their unrealistic body shapes and scanty armour. I am not sure whether this is meant to be ironic or not and “there’s the rub…”
Much of this play does not gel with me. It does not seem to do justice to either gaming or Shakespeare but is a mish-mash of both.
Two of the three actors divide up the supporting characters and many of the transitions are managed with humour and a ‘knowing’ look or reference to the audience. The characterisations are simplified and largely delineated by an accent or props. Much of the dialogue is rushed and ‘the game’ is played at a frenetic pace with little range in tone, mood or pace.
For me there is a lack of depth in the drama and the humour, and no connection to the characters or their fate. Many of the audience enjoy the play though. If you like your theatre to be simple slapstick, basic double entendres, simplified characterisation then perhaps this is the show for you. It is not the show for me. A clever concept that is let down in the execution.
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A new and exciting hybrid
Review by Grant Hindin Miller 04th Jun 2017
“Welcome to Bard-Ass Games”
As the ‘play’ begins I wonder if having no experience of videogames puts me at a disadvantage; or if, on the other hand, it’s an ideal qualification to comment on this particular stage production.
The video games apparently referenced include Call of Duty, Battlefront, Far Cry, Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario, Castle Wolfenstein, Space Invaders, Angry Birds, Tetris et al
Well, as luck would have it, I find the ‘play’ colourful, inventive, dynamic and delightful. Not as explosively hilarious as the wine imbibing ‘gamers’ to my left find it, but … well … they are simply more loaded. The audience includes all ages and we willingly collude with the swirling mists of Elsinore’s castle walls and its emerging cast of avatars.
The production immediately becomes interactive, involving the right measure of audience participation throughout. It’s a great concept to stage a play which bounces off a technology that, like the web, has infiltrated pop culture (in 2014 twenty-nine per cent of all gamers were over the age of fifty; forty-seven per cent were female; and revenue outpaced movie box office sales by more than 100 per cent – so this is serious brown stuff). This is theatre catering for a new audience and a new age.
Hamlet: The Video Game is a marvellous idea – a playful romp through the main plot points of the original play with extended and imaginative action sequences which demand multiple character roles from the four players – we’re including Hamish Oliver, whose musical score, timing, and performing is consistently excellent.
The main acting roles devolve to Dan Bain who is a staunch and seriously macho Hamlet, a superhero who stands his ground and delivers an assertive and enjoyable performance. He is ably aided by two quirky and versatile actors: Kathleen Burns and Jared Corbin. They manage twenty five costume (and accent) changes which keep everyone on their toes – in fact the production demands more voices than a madrigal.
The simple stage setting with its interactive screen works a treat and the players make sporty use of simple props and horizontal space. The weaponry is exciting and the banter good fun – fembot Ophelia “received much pleasure from thy dongle”. Nor are well-known lines abandoned – Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be” is given due dramatic weight. You don’t want to mess with this dude. The ambivalent nature of the relationship between Gertrude and Hamlet draws ongoing amusement, and the grave-scene – “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him” – has its own surprises.
Simon Peacock, born in Christchurch, an accomplished actor/director and the writer and creator of the play, began working as a voice director for video games in 2006 (starting with Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones and the original Assassin’s Creed). Since then he has directed over 50 games, including Outlast; Far Cry 3; Rainbow Six: Vegas; Shaun White Skate; all the Assassin’s Creed games. In an interview about the genre he states that “story’s number two – story’s secondary to game-play in video games … it’s a different way of telling stories – the player’s changing things.”
These ideas certainly inform this original stage production. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is four hours of dialogue and little action. Hamlet: The Video Game is light hearted entertainment, around one hour and fifteen minutes without an interval, and rebalances the equation. I imagine it is more suited to a game-playing audience who know and love the territory, however, its gaming allusions and references are not entirely lost on me. Easy to follow, this new and exciting hybrid – Hamlet, the Comedy; Hamlet, the comic; Hamlet: the Video Game – exists to make you laugh.
To load or not to load … that is the question.
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