Shit-faced Shakespeare is the Fringe favourite combination of high theatre and falling-down drunkenness. Six actors play a reduced version of a Shakespeare play (in this case, romantic comedy
It is, in short, a production of Shit-faced Shakespeare, and an excellent one.
It’s a simple concept, and one that lives or dies on the back of the night’s drunkard, a role that is rotated for health, as well as novelty. I saw Beth-Louise Priestley, playing Hero while struggling to remember, or care about, her lines. I’ve seen productions of Shit-faced where I wondered how drunk the actor really was. That was not the case with Priestley. Though the drunk antics are always somewhat trumped up, her genuine insobriety made the show genuinely funny, as she mistook an audience member for Santa Claus and twerked to the transition music.
Just as important is the skill with which the sober cast members adapt as the play goes off script, and the quick-witted Magnificent Bastards (that’s what the company’s called) prove you don’t need to drink to have fun. They improvise in Shakespearean English, not just working back to the script, but working in their own jokes. “I’ll have you, my dear,” Claudio says, having finally convinced Hero to marry him, “though I can see you’re bat shit crazy.” If I struggled to see, it was because I was doubled-over with laughter.
There are some new bells and whistles. A video sequence, lampooning the life of the Bard, opens the show. And the set is more elaborate than usual, with a couple fun tricks. Otherwise, the production retains tried-and-true elements from past shows. Two audience members are given the power to give the drinker another round, while a third holds a bucket…just in case. Audience participation is expanded in the role of Margaret, plucked from the audience to engage in ribald action with the villainous Don John. But costumes are the same brand of historic-silliness and the music, somber string versions of pop songs, expands on the mix of reverence and irreverence.
It is, in short, a production of Shit-faced Shakespeare, and an excellent one. Importantly, it’s not the show that will be going to the Brighton and Edinburgh fringes, so your enjoyment of it now will not undermine a viewing at the cheaper fringe venues. Go because you enjoy Shakespeare, go because you love intoxicated revelry, or go for the magical meeting of the two.