“Well, that was much better than the Hamlet one,” an audience member noted to her friend as we filed out at the end of Shit-Faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Magnificent Bastard’s production of Hamlet had not been particularly well-received at this year’s Fringe, so I was somewhat cautious about how the showtime version would pan out. Having seen this company’s Shakespearean production of Romeo and Juliet, I was also interested to see if their main production component (getting someone pissed) only worked in iambic pentameter (highly entertaining watching an actor trying to spout Shakespearean verse while out of their tiny little mind). Yet fear not, Fringe Friends – this simple but effective formula works in the showtime medium too! Mainly.
This production is frivolous, fun and totally Fringey!
Showtime it certainly was from the moment the master of ceremonies (last night energetically played by Joshua Diffley) bounced on to the stage. In his glittery apparel he briefed us on the show’s format (which followed that of all SFS productions): one of the cast is selected to imbibe copious amounts of booze during the afternoon before the performance, ensuring that vocal chords are well-lubricated and inhibitions are disregarded, to encourage some off-piste dialogue and on-stage antics. This frivolity is enhanced by some audience participation: horn honking to signal it’s time for another bevvy and a bucket to catch any unsavoury results from too much drinking. Previously, I’ve found some of the fun in the shows lies in guessing who’s been hitting the bottle that afternoon - it’s not always immediately apparent. Last night however we were in no doubt who’d been on the sauce as the protagonist Dorothy, aka Issy Wroe Wright, swaggered onto the stage, droopy-eyed and loose-lipped, with a mischievous glint. Uh oh...where was Auntie Em when we needed her to control her errant niece? We needn’t have worried, however, as this role was assuredly performed by Diffley and the polished Dora Rubenstein, playing the Lion/Glinda.
What ensued was an hour of fun and, at times, farcical entertainment as The Hat became the Big Top and the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion, Munchkins, Glinda and a louche Aussie or Oz-ie (!) Wizard cavorted and clowned around the stage while singing “ease on down the road” to replace yellow brick. Wroe Wright was hugely entertaining as Dorothy, as she cheekily wove her way through the seated audience, scooped the froth off the top of her on-stage beer and provocatively licked her fellow actors. But getting drunk is not her only forte: Wroe Wright sings like a nightingale, impressively hitting the top notes and it was at this point that I realised the reason why this production works. These actors are all highly trained theatrical performers who can make this craziness succeed and improvise to improve, and save, the show in equal measure. The improvisation was indeed witty, but I felt the show could have done with a larger cache of rehearsed jokes to give it a bit more meat, especially if you’ve seen a production before. Additionally, the poor acoustics at the venue meant sometimes some of the actors’ words were swallowed – not their fault. On balance, though, I have to say: Bravo Magnificent Bastard! This production is frivolous, fun and totally Fringey! Ease on down to The Hat and join in the jollity!