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Sh!t-faced Showtime: Oliver with a Twist at Leicester Square Theatre

Oliver with a Twist - Shit-faced Showtime (credit Rah Petherbridge)
Oliver with a Twist – Shit-faced Showtime (credit Rah Petherbridge)

Perhaps the most frequently asked question I receive relates to what I am seeing over the next week or two. Recently, I’ve been saying that I was going to see something called Shit-Faced Showtime, and this would seldom draw an indifferent reaction – some were intrigued, others were hopeful that I would enjoy it, still others sighed sympathetically. The audience reactions during the show were just as varied – most made the most of it and tried to appreciate it for what it was, and it is pleasing to report that those who didn’t seem to like the performance I attended were very much in the minority. A woman in the row in front of me could not help but turn to her companion and pass sneering judgement at least once a minute – quite why she just didn’t get up, leave and head for the nearest wine bar I shall never know.

Magnificent Bastard Productions, producers of the Shit-Faced series, once received a no-star review from a national newspaper; the poster campaign for their subsequent production was either foolhardy or gracious enough (or perhaps both) to include it amongst the more positive ratings. They seem to be doing something right, at least commercially – a quick glance at their website reveals that they have productions in the UK, the USA and Australia. In the end, if you’re up for seeing it, you’ll probably like it. If it’s not your thing, well, something else will be, and whatever ‘something else’ is, should be the show to see instead.

The premise is fairly straightforward, and for anyone who hasn’t seen it before (so-called ‘shit-faced virgins’), it’s all explained before the show proper begins. An actor drinks a number of alcoholic beverages sufficient to impair their ability to keep precisely to the script – or, to put it another way, during the afternoon before the show in the evening, one of the cast drinks to get drunk, and then goes on stage and performs anyway. A note in the programme tries to address concerns about this process: “We rotate our nominated drinking actor every night and no performer is ever asked to drink on consecutive nights, and no more than once a week.” I suppose the actors know what they are signing up for and all that.

In a retelling of a Dickensian story, Oliver With A Twist, as this production is subtitled, Oliver (Issy Wroe Wright) is, as one of the other characters points out, a boy with a beer glass in his hand. Part of the fun lies in witnessing the rest of the company’s reactions to Wright’s ad-libs and digressions and reacting accordingly. There is some improvisation inevitably required, and like the improvised musical series Showstopper!, there are mechanisms (again, explained to the audience) by which the play can be stopped momentarily if things really do get beyond ridiculous. Or indeed ‘too sober’.

It’s a bit too abbreviated, and feels rushed occasionally, particularly when Oliver is instructed to do this or that, stand over there, or move to another part of the stage. One would have thought that in a show of this nature, some allowance, time-wise, would have been made for some literal drunken antics. Then again, would the ‘she’s pissed’ punchline really last beyond the hour-long running time?

There are a number of songs from other musicals to enjoy, most notably the iconic ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Misérables (alas, revealing who sang it and why would be too much of a spoiler – but it does work), and then there’s a glorious cameo role for a dog called Bullseye that belongs to Bill Sikes (Hal Hillman). It’s harmless fun, really, and best enjoyed by those who have had a drink or two beforehand themselves.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Throughout 2019 Sh!t-faced shows dominate the Leicester Square theatre programme, and to kick off proceedings Sh!t-faced Shakespeare’s musical sibling Sh!t-faced Showtime returns with their Edinburgh sell-out hit Oliver with a Twist.

Will you see an arseholed-Dodger, a fuddled Fagin or even an out-of-it Oliver? Each night a different actor will get drunk before the show, when they’ll attempt to perform an hour-long version of Oliver! complete with choreography and harmonies, whilst their poor fellow actors have to deal with whatever’s thrown at them (occasionally literally).

Sh!t-faced Showtime is the all-singing, all-dancing, all-drinking phenomenon from the professional piss-heads behind Sh!t-faced Shakespeare. Featuring a cast of professionally trained musical theatre performers, classic show tunes, complex choreography and one entirely Sh!t-faced actor every night … What could possibly go right?

Company Information
Directed by Katy Baker Written by Katy Baker & Lewis Ironside
Musical Direction Nick Moore Choreography by Holly Hughes
Produced by Issy Wroe Wright Designed by Samuel Wyer
Photography by Rah Petherbridge
Original production concept by Dora Rubinstein, Issy Wroe Wright
Cast: Jessica Hern, Hal Hillman, Alan McHale, Nick Moore, Elizabeth Rowe & Issy Wroe Wright
*Six performers on stage on any night, in rotation

Listings information
Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX
Booking to 12th April 2019

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