You may well have heard of, or seen, a production of Shit-faced Shakespeare before. Well, it’s back in time for Shakespeare 400 celebrations, and this time in the form of Magnificent Bastard Productions’ original show: Shit-faced Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Basing themselves at Leicester Square Theatre for the next month and a half, the company bring us another show that is silly, raucous and ruddy good fun.
Magnificent Bastard Productions have something of a fan following, having enjoyed success at both the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe festivals in the past. In fact, a chunk of the audience whooped in appreciation when asked by the host (Lewis Ironside) whether they’d seen a production of Shit-faced Shakespeare before. Ironside’s role is nostalgically pantomime-esque; clad in sparkly spandex leggings he gears up the already rowdy and excitable audience, like a modern-day dame. With each of the instruments he hands to the audience, an innuendo is spooned out to accompany it: “Have you banged in public?” he asks cheekily, giving out the drum; “grip the shaft,” he commands, handing over the horn.
What follows is a heavily abbreviated and hilariously interrupted version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring only the four lovers – Demetrius (John Mitton), Helena (Stacey Norris), Hermia (Beth-Louise Priestley) and Lysander (Saul Marron) – and Puck (Rob Smythson), besides a brief audience role for an unexpecting audience member, who’s dragged on stage and dressed as Bottom. The premise is thus: amongst the performers, one is genuinely drunk. Before the troops come on stage, a trolley is revealed containing the evidence of the four hour pre-show pre-lash. The audience are told this is all safe, and asked to encourage the drunken cast member to have another drink by banging on the drum or blowing on the horn if at any point they seem too sober. As the actors emerge, doing a courtly dance to an instrumental version of Major Lazer & DJ Snake’s ‘Lean On’ (which is upbeat and surprisingly fitting) there’s no hiding the fact it’s Marron who’s been on the bottle tonight, and the light-hearted atmosphere is truly set.
Marron has been performing Shit-Faced Shakespeare for seven years, and masters his performance as the drunken Lysander. He appears controlled and comfortable in the role (despite the copious glasses of vodka and squash), allowing humour – he’s a professional comedian after all – to guide him. He commandeers the giddy audience with witty impersonations of his more serious co-workers – likening one to a giraffe and another to a sexy poodle. He also mocks his own performance, relating his movements to those of Sandy from Grease and Fagin from Oliver!. The rest of the cast are quick to adapt to the improvisation and are disciplined in splashing the foolery with the sober, rehearsed Shakespearean scenes, set amidst Alex Stevenson’s glittery paper pillar and tree set design. Between them they carry their drunken colleague through the storyline, whilst each earning laughs of their own.
Whilst Shit-Faced Shakespeare arguably seems more natural in its original festival environment (it makes a welcome tonic to some more serious productions) this is not a gimmick staged to please less Shakespeare-enthused punters. Magnificent Bastard Productions are creating theatre that is unique and jolly good fun. This is a show that will be entirely different each night, and it’s tempting to buy another ticket and guffaw at the next cast member whose turn it is to perform drunk.
Shit-faced Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at Leicester Square Theatre until 11 June 2016. For more information and tickets, see Leicester Square Theatre website.
Photo: Rah Petherbridge Photography