Shit-faced Shakespeare does pretty much what it says on the tin. Six actors rehearse and prepare for a no-nonsense version of one of the Bard’s plays, and then a few hours before each performance, one actor gets absolutely shit-faced and then they just see what happens.
Tonight we were given The Merchant of Venice, with a Shit-faced Jessica. She spent a large bit of the play speaking in a different language; some French/German/Spanish combo that no one could quite work out. Her choreography was out of time. She tried to make a run for it on one occasion. Early on she tried to make out with her dad and later on she climbed out of a window, practically falling into the boat below, with an Antonio that was far from ready to catch her. She is aided throughout the performance by an emcee-type character, who chases her back onto the stage when necessary.
There’s also some audience participation, with two in the front row given the opportunity to bang their gong / blow their horn when the performance was feeling a bit dry, to get Jessica another drink. Between these scenes, the play basically ran as normal (albeit, somewhat abridged with a seventy-minute run-time!).
As an audience, we know exactly why we’re there. We’re not there to see anything close to a Shakespearean classic. We’re there to see someone get drunk and butcher the play, and for all its hilarities to ensue. The scenes that the said actor is in are naturally comical, as the other actors just go along with whatever they suggest, the script and story moderated to accommodate this. The scenes without the drunkard are less comical, and really we’re just all waiting for Jessica to make another appearance.
Yet something felt a little strange about using this format with The Merchant of Venice. It’s not the most well-known of the canon, and it’s one of the more controversial plays, which isn’t necessarily an issue but does perhaps restrict the comedy a tad. It also feels a little out of place in this venue at this time-slot. I can imagine that, when playing at the Edinburgh Fringe in a late evening slot, it would be a pleasure to relax after a long day’s trek around the city and watch an actor get absolutely pissed with some light-hearted Shakespearean parody. But in a central London venue at 7pm, it seems a little wasted on its audience. It’s not so much of an event, rather just laughing at someone being drunk whilst everyone around them suffers the consequences.
The whole thing is certainly entertaining, and we do laugh quite a lot, and it’s perfect for an hour of light fun, but it doesn’t push to extremes. It feels quite safe at times. I think, in hindsight, I did this play wrong. Looking around me, nearly everyone had a drink in their hands. So maybe the real way to enjoy this show is to get shit-faced too. And for that, I failed this evening.
Review by Joseph Winer
So how does it work? Each performance has a cast of six actors, who all arrive four hours before the start of the show for a ‘party’ – however, this party is dry for all but one performer, who gets Shit-faced. The rest is a balancing act between the (trimmed down to an hour) Shakespeare script and improv rules, which state you must go with whatever the drunk actor decides to do. “Yes, and…” rather than “No, but…”. Every single show is a one-off. Every single performance has a different drunk actor. Every single time they are genuinely inebriated.
Formed in 2010 by a group of East15 graduates (largely), Magnificent Bastard Productions were just friends who loved creating unexpected and unpredictable theatre at music festivals such as Secret Garden Party. Shit-faced now performs across the UK, Australia and USA in Boston, Atlanta and Austin. They sell-out at the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes annually, and in 2015 expanded into Shit-faced Showtime, a pissed-up hour of harmonious Broadway showtunes. The Merchant of Venice will be followed by Romeo and Juliet (20th June – 1st September).
@shitfacedshake | www.magnificentbastard.co.uk
Running Time: 70 minutes | Suitable for ages 16+
Directed by Rev. Lewis Ironside and Stacey Norris
Written by William Shakespeare and Lewis Ironside
Ellen Chivers, Chris Lane, Louise Lee, Saul Marron, Stacey Norris, Matt Seager, Will Seaward, Rob Smythson, Leanna Wigginton
Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX
18 Apr – 2 June: Merchant of Venice | 20 June – 1 Sept: Romeo and Juliet