The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

03/09/2015 - 06/09/2015

Christchurch Arts Festival 2015

Production Details

Who knew Hamlet was good with his fists, good with a gun and even better with the ladies? 

Who knew Gertrude was so… kick-arse?

Who knew Shakespeare included a tutorial level and a final boss battle?

The audience calls the shots. Every level must be conquered until his father’s death has been avenged!

Live theatre, video games and improvisation collide in this unique theatrical experience where the audience control the course of the show – complete with customisable characters, dramatic speeches and button-mashing combat.

Directed by founding Court Jester and voice director of the Assassin’s Creed series Simon Peacock, the show takes interactive entertainment to the next level.

WHEN:  Thursday 3 – Sunday 6 September 8.30pm

WHERE:  The Court Theatre

TICKETS:  $28 / Conc $25

BOOKINGS:  courttheatre.org.nz | 0800 333 100

DURATION:  Approx 90 mins

Theatre , Improv ,

Lovingly patched gameplay pastiche

Review by Erin Harrington 05th Sep 2015

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into an avatar in a bad-ass action game in which Hamlet, packing heat, takes on the rotten state, one non-player character at a time.

In Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show), an AV-heavy partially-improvised comedy, we’re asked to beta test a new Shakespearean video game (created by Bard Ass Games, of course). The audience provides a handful of ask-fors – a physical object of power (a strawberry lip gloss from a member of the audience) and a country (Korea, although this isn’t incorporated consistently) – and from there the game plays out, level by level, from the tutorial on the castle battlements (versus the ghost of Hamlet’s father, naturally), via individual challenges and combat sequences, to the final boss level, where Hamlet takes on his uncle, Claudius, in hand-to-hand mortal combat.

Dan Bain plays Hamlet with roaring bombast, gaining weapons and experience points round by round before levelling up to hardened warrior. A host of varied characters, from zombie henchmen to Shakespearean stalwarts, are presented in rapid succession by Jared Corbin, Semu Filipo and Kathleen Burns, whose AI Ophelia and tentacled queen Gertrude are highlights of the show. Their incorporation of improvised material into the more clearly scripted portions is impressive.

Jokes about games, Shakespeare, and the relationship between gamers (and audiences) and their entertainments of choice are densely packed into the show by writer / director and games professional Simon Peacock. In this case more is definitely more, and the rapid barrage of gags, both visual and verbal, is executed consistently throughout, even when some of the audience-generated content and prompts don’t lend themselves overly well to dramatic action.

The show markets itself as a parody but it’s more of a pastiche, lovingly stitching together disparate and incongruous elements in playful imitation. Highlights for me include the ability to customise our Hamlet avatar, Ophelia’s tragic digital demise, Mario and Wolfenstein taking the place of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and comments on some of the idiosyncrasies of non-player characters. A rant from Gertrude about the ridiculousness of hypersexualised in-game attire for female characters gets whoops and cheers. 

The production is certainly ambitious, so it’s refreshing to see an improvised show that has had some money thrown at it. Andrew Todd’s extensive AV design captures beautifully a wide range of gaming styles and tropes, and the consistency of its presentation, in conjunction with lighting (Paul Johnson) and judicious sound and music (Hamish Oliver), provides a comprehensive technical package.

Well-chosen, imaginative and often comic props (Lydia Foate and Danielle Ferreira Beckner) and some fantastic costuming (Nicholas Wakerley) further serve to create an aesthetic environment that pays beautiful homage to its diverse source material.

Compared to other long-form improv shows, this is a bit of an anomaly in that its deliberately scripted sequences and the often loose and occasionally anarchic improvised content needs to work in concert with the extensive technical components. This leads to a few wobbles in terms of the precision of cues, as well as an uproarious tangent due to a significant wardrobe malfunction, but the show works best when it embraces these bugs, letting ‘user error’ become a key part of the action.

This show is the most fun I’ve had at the theatre for a really long time. It’s received with extraordinary enthusiasm by the large and diverse audience, but its length is a problem. It’s marketed as an 80 minute show but this performance is easily another 30 minutes longer. While my attention doesn’t really wander I’m a bit tapped out by the end, and it would be very helpful for the pacing – and, perhaps, much kinder on the performers – to focus the action further by adding an interval (which seems to have been cut out in rehearsals).

These sorts of things, along with some issues such as intermittent problems with vocal clarity (especially at the beginning, as loud music competes with rapidly delivered Shakespearean prose by a character with a speech impediment), are really just teething problems. I hope that the show has a (second) life beyond the Christchurch Arts Festival, for it would be a shame to put it to bed so quickly.

As the game developer-cum-MC at the beginning says, “The gameplay’s the thing!”, and this plays very well indeed.


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