[Published on Theatre Bubble, read the original piece here]
Shit-faced Shakespeare is the tangible proof that Shakespeare can be enjoyed irresponsibly.
The principle is simple: a traditional play by Shakespeare is turned into an (even more) entertaining show by simply getting one member of the cast utterly drunk. The “chosen one” is made to drink slowly for the four hours preceding the show, so as to begin the performance completely shit-faced.
This simple fact leads to unbelievably hilarious, highly amusing, and completely inappropriate moments. In addition, this presents all the other members of the cast with the challenge to respond quickly to the unanticipated behaviour of the drunk actor. Reacting to the unpredictable is never easy, but the cast of Shit-faced Shakespeare do a good job: with their support and improvised lines, they make the most out of the humorous remarks of the drunk actor.
The procedure has been applied for 7 years or so to many of Shakespeare’s plays; the show currently running at Leicester Square Theatre is Much Ado About Nothing (a personal favourite). As the comedy is all about relationships between men and women, mistaken identities, love, and hilarity, there could not be a better play to which to apply the “Shit-faced principle”.
On the press night, Hero was the chose one, which incidentally worked tremendously well. In the original comedy, Hero is a innocent, modest, and well-behaved young woman. Her character is very far from Beatrice and Leonato’s strong personalities. In this Shit-faced Shakespeare production, however, Hero stole the show to the more charismatic characters, proving more dominant or, as she calls herself in her intoxication, an “independent woman”.
Hilarious are also the casual references to the actors’ real names, to YouTube and Twitter, and to modern concepts such as “fiddling”. All this contrasts in every possible way with Shakespeare’s original work, but it is only to the show’s benefit: the more random the comments of the drunk actor, the more amusement for the audience.
Which brings me to a final reason why this show is so amazing. The audience (perhaps with a little help from a drink or two, just to catch up with the actors), felt free to shout, boo, and clap during the show – and, most of the time, simply laugh out loud. The atmosphere was merry and lively. I wonder whether real Shakespearean theatre was performed to an audience more similar to this than to a reserved, silent, and unresponsive crowd. All in all, being part of such an audience really makes the play: one feels entirely entertained not only by what’s going on on stage, but also by being among a crowd of people, all having the same, amazing time.
Shit-faced Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing is a thoroughly entertaining, brilliant show, reminding us that the reason Shakespeare is so great is that many things can be done to it – and it will still retain its genius.
Shit-faced Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing
Leicester Square Theatre
14th April – 16th September 2017