Shit Faced Shakespeare “Chaotic, morally questionable and wickedly funny.”
The Warren – Main House
23rd – 30th May
Tickets from £5
In the interest of full disclosure I’m going to admit that I originally intended to write a shit-faced review of Shit-Faced Shakespeare. Half a bottle of pisco (seriously), a pint of ale and a few jägerbombs later, and the result was unfortunately not the hilarious, irreverent piece of writing I might have hoped for – less Hunter S Thompson, more Homer J Simpson. So, after picking through some largely indecipherable notes, what I present here instead is a slightly hungover review of last night’s performance of Much Ado About Nothing.
The brainchild of Magnificent Bastard Productions, the shit-faced concept involves rigorously rehearsing an abridged Shakespeare play with a cast of accomplished actors, and ensuring that each night one amongst them is completely and utterly smashed: the Bard with added booze. If those watching decide that the actor isn’t drunk enough at any point (‘if’, ha!) members of the audience may ring a gong or blow a horn to ensure the swift administration of further alcohol.
For this performance it is the turn of Stacey Norris playing Beatrice who, we are told, has necked two bottles of Prosecco before curtain call. Our inebriated Beatrice causes some delightful mischief. She gives us clown shoes, facts about the relationship status of other cast members and some helpful study notes about Shakespeare’s script: ‘This bit is a feminist statement, because she’s all like, “I don’t need a husband.”’ Particularly brilliant though is her ongoing critique of direction she has received in rehearsals: ‘Oh, and, this is a note from our director: he wants me to go “ooooh” here. I don’t think it really works.’
Condensed into an hour the play ploughs on at such a pace that the bare bones of the story are only just about there. Billing this as ‘an entirely serious Shakespeare play’ is probably stretching it a bit. For one, the bawdiness level has been cranked up a few notches, and not just by Beatrice pointing at Benedick and instructing us to ‘look at his penis’. (Was I the only one who consequently found this unavoidable?) John Sebastian Mitton – a chap with a Russell Brand swagger and trousers just as tight who seems determined not to be upstaged by a drunk chick – brings us one of the lewdest comedy moments as ‘the Don’ when he simulates going at it with a bearded man whom he has plucked from the audience to stand in as Margaret.
For the most part the others successfully play it straight in the face of bedlam, adlibbing to great effect and keeping the story on course even as Beatrice runs amok, forgetting lines, talking over everyone and playing with the scenery. Director Lewis Ironside takes to the stage as Benedick and seems to be the target for much of Norris’s abuse. He stoically bears it all and has to be credited for hardly flinching when she runs her tongue down the entire length of his face.
Only the British could take one of the greatest comic playwrights the world has ever known and decide that binge drinking would make it funnier, but there’s no denying that the formula is ingenious. The result is a most raucous piece of theatre. It’s chaotic, morally questionable and wickedly funny.
Bravo you magnificent bastards.