2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Photo courtesy High Performance Rodeo

Booze and the Bard: A review of Hammered Hamlet

By Kristy Koehler, February 1 2019—

In the final act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, during the epic battle scene between Laertes and the titular Danish prince, Laertes cries out, “Ouch, my nards!” Sound like the Shakespeare you read in high school? Definitely not. But, it’s the Shakespeare that was on display during the High Performance Rodeo performance of Hammered Hamlet.

The production, put on by Calgary’s The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions, featured five actors presenting the Elizabethan classic. Two of the actors stayed sober to guide the production along, while the other three got hammered. And, in a truly democratic process, the audience got to choose who would drink and who would not. Each actor offered up a short campaign speech to sway audience opinion — one pleaded for mercy on account of it being his third drunken night in a row, another cited her birthday as a reason she should be chosen to imbibe.

Four shots per chosen actor were lined up. An audience member was on hand to test for accuracy — we had to be assured that the players were drunk acting rather than acting drunk. Shots were downed and the play started off as Hamlet does — dark, serious, challenging for even the most seasoned actor. As the action moved along and the alcohol kicked in, the fun began. Actors collapsed in fits of giggles, cursed and forgot their lines, while the sober actors maintained their composure, pretending that their fellow thespians weren’t three sheets to the proverbial wind.

During the intermission, the audience was again offered a chance to partake in the players’ drunken demise. Noisemakers were auctioned off — with proceeds going to future productions — and each imbibing cast member was assigned to one of the noisemaker’s unique sounds. The purchaser bought the ability to use the sound at any point during the second half and make the corresponding actor have another shot. The Bard’s Barf Bucket was on hand in case someone no longer had the stomach to deliver their lines.

Hammered Hamlet is the second play in The Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet-centric season. The buzz — pardon the pun — around the production started back in November. The show’s Jan. 23–26 run sold out almost immediately and people were scrambling for tickets online. The Gauntlet spoke to Haysam Kadri, artistic director of The Shakespeare Company, shortly after the season’s announcement and the group was fielding plenty of calls before tickets were even on sale.

“Negotiating Shakespeare is difficult at best playing sober, so this adds a completely different element,” said Kadri. “Who doesn’t want to see a tipsy actor trying to negotiate heightened Elizabethan text, with a sword maybe?”

Swords, for safety reasons, were replaced with plastic light sabers and the cast members wore safety goggles — after all, hand-eye co-ordination is one of the first things to go when you’re drinking.

Impressively, the play moved along mostly as planned. Elizabethan language was peppered with modern expressions of “yep,” “like, um” and a well-timed “yeah, well, fuck you.”

The Shakespeare Company should definitely follow this format again. What other plays could they perform? Wrecked Macbeth? Liquored Lear? Who knows. But, judging by the roars of laughter from the audience and people clamouring for tickets on social media, Drunk Shakespeare should certainly make an annual appearance.

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet