Hot Docs 2024: Though 'Grand Theft Hamlet' Be Madness, Yet There Is Method In't

Directed by Sam Crane and Pinny Grylls

Starring Sam Crane, Mark Oosterveen, Jen Cohn, Dipo Ola, ParTebMosMir, BTRaideZ

Image courtesy of Hot Docs

BY Alex HudsonPublished May 1, 2024


English teachers absolutely love anything that makes classic literature seem cool to young people. Someone rapping The Canterbury Tales? Yes please. A young Leonardo DiCaprio starring in a Romeo + Juliet full of guns and Hawaiian shirts? They're still clinging to that one 30 years later.

Grand Theft Hamlet now enters the cannon of "modern adaptations that might make Shakespeare fun for teens." It's an irreverent, surprisingly moving piece of lockdown art, in which a pair of out-of-work British actors, Sam Crane and Mark Oosterveen, begin hanging out within the virtual world of Grand Theft Auto Online. When they stumble upon Los Santos's Vinewood Bowl amphitheatre (an in-game structure clearly based on the Hollywood Bowl), they jokingly recite a few lines of Shakespeare and concoct the idea to stage their own production of Hamlet entirely within the world of GTA.

They hold auditions, but are repeatedly interrupted by fellow gamers coming to shoot them. Still more people are understandably unwilling to commit their spare time to rehearsing a virtual staging of Hamlet.

Grand Theft Hamlet is a machinima film, with the entire thing taking place within the world of the video game, and all the dialogue coming from their in-game conversations. The outrageously over-the-top death scenes are funny, but it's not initially clear how directors Sam Crane and Pinny Grylls are going to turn such a specific concept into a 90-minute film.

They pull it off, however, as Grand Theft Hamlet's becomes surprisingly emotionally resonant, with frank discussions about depression and mortality (prompted, of course, by the "to be or not to be" soliloquy). In one particularly affecting moment, a speech from Hamlet segues directly into Sam's personal thoughts on existentialism and why GTA is the perfect representation of both the stunning beauty and violent brutality of life.

That last point is Grand Theft Hamlet's greatest strength. While the concept of performing Shakespeare in a video game seems like a gimmick at first, it gradually becomes clear that GTA is the perfect world for an emotionally heightened larger-than-life performance of Hamlet: characters self-immolate, murder each other with rocket launchers, and deliver beautiful speeches from atop blimps. And if every single character accidentally dies in a plane crash, resulting in a brief delay as they respawn, that's all part of the spontaneous fun of live theatre.

The only bad part is that I've already graduated from school, so no English teachers can show it to me as part of a Shakespeare unit.

Hot Docs 2024 takes place from Apr 25 to May 5 in Toronto. Find details, including information about tickets, at the festival's website.


Latest Coverage