Take a bunch of classically trained yet not entirely serious actors, rehearse a play then feed one of them half a bottle of gin just before curtain up and what have you got? Come on, you can do better than that! I said, WHAT HAVE YOU GOT? SH!T FACED SHAKESPEARE! That’s right!
Birthed from under one of the more outrageous skirts of the Edinburgh fringe, this group has been “improving” Shakespearean plays for an incredibly impressive nine years. Hamlet, Much Ado, Midsummer and many others have fallen victim to their shenanigans, and now it is the turn of that rather tricky play, The Taming of the Shrew.
The premise is simple; the play is abridged to a speedy, yet not too rushed, 70 minutes, and one of the actors is drunk. Very drunk. So drunk in fact, that one of the audience members in the front row is provided with a bucket, “just in case”. But if he should sober up, which heaven forefend, two more audience members are instructed to toot a horn and bang a gong respectively and the ever-solicitous compere will rush on and top him up with a beer.
On the night I attended, the unlucky (or lucky, depending on your perspective) inebriate was Petruchio, brave suitor to the virago Katherine. For the most part, he managed very well; his lines were almost all there and almost all audible – in fact, some of them were inexplicably shouted.
There was some profanity, a couple of tantrums, and he discovered an admirable talent for walking backwards which he indulged in for much of the play. Not that the sober characters were much better behaved – this is not Shakespeare as we know it. Bawdy, frolicsome, loud and violent, this is the Shakespeare of yore, and all the more authentic for it. Bianca cavorted in unprintable fashion with Lucentio, Kate raved and howled and the long-suffering compere regularly joined the actors on stage to berate and cajole. The cast’s improvisational skills were polished and impressive as they accommodated the unpredictable vagaries of Petruchio, and most of the unexpected asides were extremely funny, even if some of them felt a trifle rehearsed.
Mac Young’s set is simple but rather beautiful, and extremely well adapted for its function. There were a couple of issues with the sound; the mics dropped off a couple of times, and the music occasionally drowned out the dialogue, but in fact, this just added to the chaotic fun of the show.
It is impossible to review this show seriously, but I must say that I was impressed with the way in which the troupe dealt with what is, admittedly, an anti-feminist play with a dubious message. Firstly, they turned Kate into a pantomime witch, a shrieking harpy who appeared rather more in need of an exorcist than a suitor, which went some way to explaining her reputation as a shrew.
Secondly, they made no attempt to conceal Bianca’s less-than-pleasant qualities, which stopped her from being held up as a paragon of feminine virtue. Thirdly, they completely obliterated the closing speech, in which having been “broken” by Petruchio, Kate celebrates her new found docility. Finally, and I think most importantly, the inebriated Petruchio himself denounced both the play and his own role in it. “I’m a C**T!” he yelled, pithily if not eloquently summing up the problems with the subject matter.
Sh!t-faced Shakespeare is not highbrow. It is not classical. But it is very funny, very entertaining and spontaneously silly. I think the bard would have approved.
Review by Genni Trickett
Will Petruchio jack it all in and stay a bachelor? Will Kate be tamed or tanked? Sh!t-faced Shakespeare® returns to Leicester Square Theatre with their drunken antics and drunken actors to tell the tale of a shrew who turns from tempestuous to tamed, probably. With one genuinely inebriated actor every night, The Taming of the Shrew features cross-dressing, food fights, a highly underwhelming horse, one too many bum cheeks and more twisted gender politics than you can shake a fawning fat-skinned fustilarian at!
@shitfacedshake | #ShitfacedShrew | www.magnificentbastard.co.uk
Running Time: 70 mins | Suitable for ages 16+
Directed by Rev. Lewis Ironside
Produced by Stacey Norris
Set design by Mac Young
Costume design by Lorna Jean Connell
Cast: Stacey Norris, Saul Marron, Briony Rawle, Lucy Farrar, Rob Smythson, Will Seaward, Matthew Seager, Jack Forsyth-Noble.
Booking Period: to 1 June 2019
Running Time: 70 minutes
Age Restriction: 16+
Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Pl, London WC2H 7BX