ArtsATL > Theater > Review: Holy Denmark! Essential Theatre transforms Hamlet into the Caped Crusader

Review: Holy Denmark! Essential Theatre transforms Hamlet into the Caped Crusader

Topher Payne stars as Bat Hamlet.
Topher Payne is partly gruff, partly clueless as Bat Hamlet.

The dark prince rises in Essential Theatre’s “Bat Hamlet.”

A brooding son of privilege, traumatized by his father’s death, contemplates the complex implications of taking action against evil in a poisonous world … while wearing tights.

This description could, with a little stretching, apply to either Hamlet or Batman. Exploring the odd overlap between two of the world’s most famous fictional characters is the name of the game in Essential Theatre Play Festival’s world-premiere production of “Bat Hamlet,” running through August 4 at Actor’s Express. Playwright Jordan Pulliam dares to ask the question: what if, instead of putting on an “antic disposition” to disguise his motives, Hamlet had put on a superhero mask and a cape to fight evil?

The plot follows the story of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” inserting Batman villains, action scenes, comic henchmen and sidekicks into the revenge tragedy. To say that “Bat Hamlet” is silly is to state the obvious. The show takes a page or two from Monty Python’s book and sails straight past silly and into the realm of the surreal. Palace guards fuss about the best way to fight a ghost. (Stab it in the heart? No, that’s a vampire. Burn it? Nope, witch.) Polonius makes literature’s cruddiest advice even worse by advising Laertes, “When in doubt, hide behind a curtain,” and Ophelia gets a head start on her crackup by talking to herself and hanging out with cats. Topher Payne’s Hamlet is one part Christian Bale gruffness, two parts Adam West cluelessness.

There are a lot of fun gags in the show, but in the end, the mash-up idea is stretched too thin. “Bat Hamlet” would work best as a long skit. With some smart cuts, it might work as a one-act play. At two and a half hours, it’s too long. Things pick up in the second act as peripheral characters, inspired by Hamlet’s superhero identity, don capes and masks of their own. But we’re given versions of nearly every last scene and situation in Shakespeare’s play, right down to Claudius at his prayers, and some don’t resonate humorously in this new context.

Still, the energetic cast milks it for all it’s worth, and “Bat Hamlet” gets a lot of mileage out of putting literature’s darkest character into the bat light. If you’ve always longed to see Hamlet fight a king cobra with a grenade in its mouth, now’s your chance.

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