Review: Shit-Faced Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew, Leicester Square Theatre

Shit-Faced Shakespeare has been absolutely destroying the sanctity of Shakespeare for almost a decade now. Birthed in 2008 at the Edinburgh Fringe, they’ve since drank their way through plenty of performances in the UK, US and Australia, for 350,000 people. After already getting Hamlet, Much Ado and Romeo & Juliet absolutely bladdered, they’ve now returned to whisk us off to Padua, via the Leicester Square Theatre, to bring us their unique take on one of Shakespeare’s masterful comedies, The Taming of the Shrew.

For anyone unfamiliar with The Taming of the Shrew, it’s the basis of the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Notoriously difficult and feminist roughly 300 years before-her-time Katherine (Briony Rawle) is harassed by annoyingly obtuse Petruchio (Saul Marron) until they eventually marry, and she uncharacteristically becomes a perfectly subservient wife, even more so than her pious little sister Bianca (Katrina Allen). Throw in some disguises, love triangles, a fool, a miserable old dad with a few bob, and you’ve got the gist of the original play. Now hold that image, but with a Petruchio who’s had two thirds of a bottle of gin and three beers.

Six classically trained actors have rehearsed the play, then each night a different actor is randomly selected to undergo minor alcohol poisoning before going on for our entertainment. Sounds like a laugh, but there is something slightly uncomfortable about a braying crowd encouraging someone already clearly past their best to drink more for a laugh. However, on the night I went, Petruchio handled it very well, and still delivered most of his lines and followed the basic plot despite being clearly inebriated. Thank god, though, for Stacey (Stacey Norris). A cheery figure in a top hat and glittery leggings, she basically acts as the drunkard’s minder, ensuring that nothing goes too far.

If you’re a fan of RSC-style Shakespeare, then perhaps these shows aren’t for you. It did, however, allow for some amusing commentary on this particular evening. Petruchio openly laments about how the play is majorly sexist, and proclaims “I’m a cunt.” I think we’d all agree that he (Petruchio) is. Bianca’s precious virtue is stripped from her in this production, and Katherine’s boring long speech after she’s ‘broken in’ by Petruchio is axed, which is nice because it’s utterly depressing.

Thoroughly chaotic, if you like your Shakespeare done ‘properly’, then I probably don’t need to tell you that you’re better off going to The Globe. Drunk people are funny, but they’re messy and forgetful too, so you’re not going to witness an Olivier-winning performance. However, if you love the Bard but would prefer the same stories but with a modern, tongue-in-cheek update (and a bottle of Echo Falls), then you’ll most likely love this boozy version of The Taming of the Shrew.

Shit-faced Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew is playing the Leicester Square Theatre until 1 June. For more information and tickets, visit the Shit-faced Shakespeare website.