Someone was plied with Echo Falls and Premium French Lager before curtains up - and it ain’t Puck (though I’d pay to see him have a crack at it later on in the run). If you’re expecting a bit of preamble or even a whiff of intrigue about who be ‘the shit-faced one’ among the cast – don’t. Honestly, they’re already three sheets to the wind. And they’ve equipped the audience to make that four. This one-trick pony gallops through a heavily abridged and improvised Midsummer Night’s Dream, thick with profanity, pratfalls and several hearty choruses of the Dawson’s Creek theme song (which everyone tried to pretend they didn’t know).
Gimmicky? Yup. Funny? Generally.
In theory, watching a pissed professional actor meander through Shakespeare is a bit like laughing at a four-year-old dropping the f-bomb. It’s hilarious a few times, but you shouldn’t laugh in case they continue to do it. This invoked a couple of conflicting, strange feelings; first, the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing someone apparently self-destruct, second, the discomfort that accompanies being complicit in this – whether it’s real or not. At one point, The Drunk took a wander into the audience, situating himself a few rows back, lamenting his dwindling beer and whispering loudly. Humorous, at first, then incredibly annoying – I would have shushed the hell out of this guy (thou drivest me past the bounds of maiden's patience) – if his disruptive intentions hadn’t been so transparent.
Introducing an element of chaos divides the audience’s attention throughout – Helena, all hammy lines and cow-like devotion to the play’s boorish men, was talented enough to keep the pointless narrative progressing despite a certain other being hell-bent on diverting course. Some seemingly ‘un’ set-pieces were genius; there is an admirable amount of skill that goes into ‘playing drunk’ convincingly, whether actually smashed or not. Therein lies the rub – the show rises and falls on The Drunk’s performance – best go along with a trusting heart and alcohol-laced liver. And maybe that’s the point. Shit-Faced Shakespeare actually challenges our understanding of the theatre, harkening back to a more authentic experience where the audience, and perhaps the actors, weren’t always so stiff-backed and appreciative of ‘Culture’ as something one acquires like a badge of honour.
Let’s not be precious about this – we cringed (a lot), but mostly we laughed. Shit-Faced certainly is a bite-sized morsel of fun – if you like your Shakespeare in a Happy Meal (fast, filling, tasty, sickening, comes with a toy) then this is definitely for you. If you’re an Elizabethan scholar with an Olivier vs Branagh argument in your arsenal, I’m not sure how you got past the title.