Part animation, part one-man show, Super Hamlet 64 is an audacious rework of a Shakespearean classic in the style of an old-school video game. In writer-performer Edward Day's alternative world, Hamlet's dad was Mario – but he's dead now, just a Boo on the battlements, while Princess Peach throws in her lot with the evil Uncle Luigi. If you don't understand why that's funny, you may as well stop reading and move on. But if you get the joke, you'll enjoy where Day goes with it – and fans of Zelda, Monkey Island, or even Zork will find just as many sly references to enjoy.
An extraordinary amount of work's gone into the animations, crafted by Day together with David Cousens and Darius Powell. Most of it's done in a retro style, often featuring a miniature 8-bit Day alongside characters from the Mario canon, and at times cleverly melding into live-action sequences more reminiscent of a modern game. The video's projected onto a kind of pixelated proscenium arch – and Day himself performs in front of it, wittily mirroring the action we see on-screen.
The jokes come thick and fast – sometimes, in fact, too fast to properly enjoy – and Day's antics are joyfully creative, whether he's flinging an imaginary banana in a round of Mario Kart or apologising to unseen enemies as he bounces on their heads. The Mario/Hamlet mash-up works remarkably well, and there are some neat excursions into other parts of the Folio, including a clever pastiche of the famous bit of As You Like It built round modes of death in video games.
So there's a lot here that I loved – but the concept as a whole never quite came together for me. It feels like it's caught between an out-and-out joke, and something much more serious and meaningful; Day's script embarks on several promisingly thoughtful topics, but never quite follows through on them. There's an interesting twist at the end, using video-game tropes to radically re-imagine the motivations underpinning Shakespeare's story, but again I feel that could be more rewarding if it enjoyed more focus and had been set up more clearly early on.
There are just too many great ideas competing for attention; I think Day needs to step back for a moment, take a critical look at some of his themes, and ask himself what the show is really about. And if it's really about a fun-filled parody – the sheer humour of transplanting Hamlet into the Mushroom Kingdom – then that's absolutely fine by me. With so many much-loved references to spot and enjoy, this improbable love-child of Shakespeare and Nintendo stands up as a geeky treat alone.