Hammered Hamlet and Macbeth Muet untraditional, brilliant takes on Shakespeare’s tragedies

Two productions at this year’s High Performance Rodeo are works of Shakespeare — Hamlet and Macbeth — and you would be hard pressed to find two classical performances more irreverent, comical, engaging and fun.  

The Royal Canadian Legion No. 1 is not your typical venue for Shakespeare, but, as it turns out, it works really well if you’re looking to watch actors do repeated shots of whiskey and proceed to perform Hamlet. Not all of the actors are drunk, however. After a brief address to the audience as to why they should or should not be drunk during this performance, the audience votes on the three actors they would like to see get shitfaced on stage. We were not disappointed in our choices.

Amazingly, everyone held it together pretty well. .. until the second half. Watching these actors do their damndest to stay on script, while watching them slowly (some less slowly) succumb to drunkenness was a thing of pure, comedic joy. Although I do feel for the actors – especially if they are the chosen ones on more than one night – I can’t remember laughing that much at a show, especially one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Props to the cast, who managed to give us 70 per cent authentic Shakespeare, 30 per cent drunken magic.

Over at the Pumphouse Theatres, a shorter, less wordy version of Macbeth is being staged. Macbeth Muet is the telling of this equally famous of Shakespeare’s tragedies, but the twist here is that it is a silent pantomime performed by two actors, some plastic cups, styrofoam plates and oven mitts. Oh, and origami fortune tellers. And eggs. And “blood.” And it is brilliant. 

Knowing the play helps a bit, but is not necessary. There is enough visual narrative to allow the audience, regardless of familiarity with the script, to follow along and become invested in the characters and the story. As delightfully fun and comedic as the performance was, I was still moved while watching the actors portray the Macbeths’ inner torment and subsequent descent into madness. 

These two shows are truly gems of this year’s Rodeo, and I’m going to put it out there that maybe there needs to be more whiskey and Shakespeare pairings.

Hammered Hamlet runs at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 1 and Macbeth Muet runs at the Pumphouse Theatres as part of the High Performance Rodeo. Both shows on until Saturday, Jan. 26.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring The Culture Cycle event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE. Contact her at