Shit-faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

For those of you who have yet to encounter the fringe phenomenon that is Shit-Faced Shakespeare, this is a show that does exactly what it says on the tin. The current production showing at The Warren (although they have now branched out internationally) is a trimmed, hour long version of The Merchant of Venice in which one of the performers drinks an unreasonable amount of alcohol before, during and quite possibly after the performance. This leads to a fair amount of missed cues, spontaneous audience interaction and extra lines of dialogue which the equally as inebriated audience, in the case of Thursday night, enjoy to no end.

Shit-Faced Shakespeare is incredible fun, brave and perfect for a fringe audience. There are few more superlatives left to describe the whole affair.

The structure of this show is simply faultless; a formula that has been refined over years of fringe and touring productions. We have an introduction from two presenter's who welcome us to the show and establish the concept as well as displaying empty beer cans as proof of the actors “shitfaced” nature. As well as easing us into the production they act importantly as minders and quasi-directors allowing the show to flow freely and not be too disrupted.

If this were a straight production of the Shakespeare play it would have been almost as enjoyable. The acting is excellent and the improvisational riffing around the mistakes of the drunken actor are carried out in impeccable Jacobean manner. The pantomimic nature of the set and direction would be a little silly for a straight production but for the purposes of adding humour and confusing the already struggling cast member, they work perfectly.

The only nagging doubts I had throughout the performance purely ethical. The show's accompanying literature assures the audience that “sensible precautions” are taken to ensure that no harm comes to the performers and is attested to by the on-stage presence of what are essentially two non-actors. However it does ask the question: what are we as an audience paying to see? Is the performer with it enough to know when they are behaving as character or as actor? It could certainly pose problems in more intimate scenes: an impromptu on-stage kiss for example. These sorts of boundaries are certainly blurred. But afterall, this is exactly where the fun comes from and the best theatre, surely, is supposed to be ever-changing, dangerous and challenging.

Shit-Faced Shakespeare is incredible fun, brave and perfect for a fringe audience. There are few more superlatives left to describe the whole affair.

Reviews by James Price

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The Blurb

The legendary Magnificent Bastards return to Brighton with their smash-hit show 'Shit-faced Shakespeare'®. 2015 Best Comedy Brighton Fringe Winner. “Genuinely hilarious” (The Guardian)

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