Monday, 17 April 2017
Shit-faced Shakespeare @ The Leicester Square Theatre
Shit-faced Shakespeare is gimmick theatre, but the company throw themselves so whole-heartedly into it that you can't help but be swept along by its raucous entertainment.
As the bombastic voice-over introduction suggests, this is the X Factor of theatre: big, loud, Saturday night theatre that's watered down for the masses. Though there's nothing watery about the drinks. As the introduction continues, the rules are explained: the cast will attempt a wholly serious production (currently Much Ado About Nothing) but one of the actors is shit-faced, wasted, paralytically drunk.
That the production is shown in a comedy venue is fitting - this is an irreverent take on Shakespeare that's far more comedy show than it is serious theatre. Even less surprising is the success the company has had at fringe festivals across the country. At just over an hour long, it's a short burst of silliness that still leaves you time for a night of Woo Woos at the local Revs bar.
That said, the comedy is as polished as it is anarchic, presented by a cast of very capable actors. Whilst the text has been drastically cut, the verse is spoken well and the narrative (just about) stays intact. Yet plenty of modernisms slip through, largely owing to some improvisation around missed or - let's say - amended lines by the drunken actor, in this instance Rob Smythson as Claudio. Swearing and sexual innuendo ensue, but the cast mostly keep a straight face and cleverly interweave new lines with the actual script - Louise Lee's Leonata has a particular talent for this. Comic timing is excellent ensuring plenty of guffaws from the audience, whilst the use of traditional costumes and string versions of current pop songs only add to the anachronistic humour.
I do wonder how much of the comedy is staged, though. With eight years of similar productions, surely some jokes are repeated and some drunkenness is exaggerated. I usually end up asleep in a corner when drunk, never mind performing on-stage, but that probably says more about me than these performers. With such talent, it would be a joy to watch them in a serious production without gimmicks.
Yet they've found a successful niche, turning a sometimes impenetrable playwright into popular entertainment. Shit-faced Shakespeare is a rollicking time - and probably more so if you're shit-faced yourself.
Watch: Shit-faced Shakespeare runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until 16th September.
Posted by ednights