A year from their 2012 debut, the hype surrounding Shit-faced Shakespeare continues to saturate the Fringe. A severely cut-down version of a Bard comedy (this season, Much Ado About Nothing) is made a little more interesting as one member of the six-strong cast must wet their whistle in the wings minutes before the show. The actor chosen for the task of drinking themselves stupid varies each night to protect the sanctity of the show’s chaotic premise - as well as the livers of its cast. The evening’s charismatic compere (John Sebastian Mitton) introduces the audience to house rules that cover all eventualities. The most pressing (apart from projectile vomiting) is the threat of sobriety which is to be staved off with the help of a conscientious audience, enticed into the scary territory of audience participation by the prospect of a piss-up by proxy.
Abridging Much Ado is no mean feat and the company have managed to retain most of the farcical plot and cutting witticisms of the original, configuring them to their own anarchic ends. Economically distilled Shakespeare, as it turns out, most resembles a panto written by Richard Curtis. The sober actors rattle through their tongue-twisting dialogue to afford that night’s golden boy of inebriety (tonight, Saul Maron, the actor playing the cad Benedick) the luxury of time so that he can slur his lines and get angry at things. Shit-faced Shakespeare knows its audience: those with a general appreciation of Shakespeare and a greater love of people falling over. It makes for a wonderful atmosphere. With each new announcement that an actor must drink comes this beautiful communal benevolence-cum-sadism. That feeling alone is well worth the ticket price.
The potential for disaster is what drives the play forward. Rather than ‘play up’ his intoxication, Maron treated sobriety like a prop; he would fumble for it, find it missing and then improvise a little half-heartedly. The appeal of the show is in the sense of free reign that Maron was allowed, using his newfound liberty to intermittently break character and mock his fellow actors’ stalwart attempts to be professional. When not playing ‘straight-man’ to Maron’s foil, the rest of the cast had command of the comedy that could be derived from the play sober, which was on occasion more charmingly madcap than the scenes that were under the influence. However, as the main focus of the play will be upon that one ‘shit-faced’ actor, the burden of the production relies solely on the actions of an actor whose reactions have been chemically compromised. As is known all too well, alcohol plus person does not always equal fun.
Yet, Shit-faced Shakespeare proves that the recipe for an excellent show is six bottles of beer, a little bit of vodka, and a committed, genuinely hilarious cast. The latter can’t be found in the corner shop, nor in many other companies, making this production - however unpredictable - one that will not disappoint.