Alcohol and the theatre have always gone together. Normally, its some member of the audience having one too many pre-show drinks then being a nuisance during the show – or even worse, falling asleep and snoring sat next to you. However, it is always assumed that though a first night and a last night cast party may get a bit raucous, the actors themselves tend to be sober for the duration of the performance. Now imagine a scenario where a group of highly trained actors sit around before curtain up and deliberately get one of their number drunk, then send them out to perform one of The Bard’s Classics. Welcome to Shit-faced Shakespeare’s presentation of Much Ado About Nothing at the Leicester Square Theatre.
Now, normally in a review, I would write an opening paragraph like the one above then this paragraph would give you a synopsis of the show itself. With SFS’s version of Much Ado that’s pretty impossible to do. The show I saw last night was unique as will tonight’s be and so on. The reason for this is that of the ten actors in the company, any combination of six will play the performance and they will play one of two roles in the story and until the start of the show, the audience will have no idea which of the six is the one that has been drinking.
Now, if you are sitting there thinking,”this sounds truly awful” then welcome to my thoughts before the show started. However, I have to say, as a theatrical concept it really works. Our drunken actor was the lovely Beth-Louise Priestley playing the role of Hero. Beth was a really sweet drunk who smiled and giggled a lot. She was also a very modern, self-confident woman and her inebriated interpretation of Hero – who is treated abominably in the play – certainly reflected an attitude that I’m not sure old Will would have approved. However, no matter how far Beth went off script, including an unscheduled discussion with Father Christmas – who had better deliver the right present this year – the rest of the cast managed to bring the story back with some fantastic ad-libbing and amendments to the script so that by the end, All the pieces were in the right position, the villain vanquished and everyone that was supposed to be married had tied the knot.
So, you may ask, what makes the show work? I think it’s important to remember that the cast are all highly trained classical actors who know the actual script – adapted into a just over one-hour play by Lewis Ironside – inside out. It was interesting that, on occasion, Beth suddenly came out with a whole string of words that sounded right, almost as if her subconscious professional mind was trying to take over and do the thing properly. The same was true of the dancing – which she informed us she had choreographed – where she was pretty much perfect, good old muscle memory kicking in. In fact, SFS would probably make a great study case for how the mind and body react to alcohol – I can feel my PhD being awarded now.
All told then, both my companion and I thoroughly enjoyed Shit-faced Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. If either of us had been a Shakespeare purist then I think we would have been frothing at the mouth in anger but for normal people that fancy a good show which will have you laughing from start to finish then this is the one for you. Just think, the next day at work you can appear all highbrow as you tell your boss, “Oh yes, I caught the new Shakespeare production last night”. Only you will know the truth.
Review by Terry Eastham
Shit-faced Shakespeare is the deeply highbrow fusion of an entirely serious Shakespeare play with an entirely shit-faced cast member. Side-splitting, raucous and completely unpredictable, the show has been running since 2010 and has already entertained over 120,000 theatregoers across the UK and USA. It seems there is no stopping them, as 2017 see’s Shit-faced Shakespeare stagger home to London with a brand spanking new take on Much Ado About Nothing.
Shit-Faced Shakespeare seeks to introduce a new generation of theatre-goers to the works of the Bard by reviving the raucous, interactive and vibrant nature of Elizabethan theatre with a very modern twist – reminding them as we go to always enjoy Shakespeare responsibly!
14 Apr — 16 Sep 2017
Leicester Square Theatre
6 Leicester Pl, London WC2H 7BX