Bat-Hamlet – An Atlanta Theater Fans Review

Bat-Hamlet at Atlanta's Essential Theatre Festival

Lake Roberts and Topher Payne in Bat-Hamlet. Photo by Nancy Johnson

Bam! Sock! Pow! A delightful mash-up of Batman and Hamlet, Bat-Hamlet offers fun, laughs and nostalgia. Anyone who loves the old Batman TV show with Adam West, and even those that haven’t seen it, will find the play’s campiness entertaining.

While the concept of taking Hamlet and mixing it with Batman seems unusual, playwright Jordan Pulliam has crafted a script where it works well. Loosely following the plot of the famous tragedy, all the familiar comic book characters are in the show, albeit with alter egos that correspond with Shakespeare’s characters.

Bat-Hamlet begins, much like Hamlet, with the night watchmen encountering the King’s ghost. While those familiar with the Elizabethan drama will hear familiar lines, deviations from Shakespeare’s work begin with the ghost playing charades. Claudius is replaced with Jester (a Joker-like character), Polonius becomes Puffin (a Penguin-type character) and Ophelia transforms into a feline-loving surprise.

Hamlet, played by Topher Payne, takes on the Bruce Wayne type persona. Played with Hamlet’s melancholy personality, Payne adds the breathy voice that recent Batman actors have used. His take on the superhero character pulls from the various incarnations and seamlessly joins it with a traditional interpretation of Hamlet, who broods through the play.

Leaving no sacred cow untouched, the script pokes fun at both of its subjects. From making Hamlet’s brooding a punch line to spoofing the 1960s television show, the play’s smart humor is the highlight of the show. The play even has a version of the famous message that opened and closed the episodes of the TV show.

Under the direction of Peter Hardy, each cast member has his or her moment to shine. Due to the well-crafted script and smart casting, the cast creates engaging characters that do not feel out-of-place in the Shakespearean plot.

As Jester, Stuart McDaniel steals the show. To say he becomes the character would be an understatement. Of all the actors who have played the character, McDaniel plays one of the most devilishly amusing “Jokers” I have seen. His performance is nothing less than astonishing.

Don’t expect high drama, but do prepare to laugh harder than you’ve laughed in while. Bat-Hamlet is a refreshing, ingenious twist on the superhero genre.

The world premiere production of Bat-Hamlet runs in repertory with Evelyn in Purgatory and The Local at the Essential Theatre Festival. The festival runs through August 5 at Actor’s Express. For tickets and more information, visit the theater’s website. The show’s run time is approximately two and a half hours with one intermission.

– Kenny Norton