Pros: A drunken performance Oliver Reed would have been proud to give.
Cons: If you don’t like panto crowds, this is going to drive you up the wall.
This is so, so wrong. I mean, so very, very wrong. What classically trained actor worth their salt would turn up on stage so drunk they’re grinning from ear to ear, whilst everyone else is trying to look serious and professional? Well okay, Oliver Reed, but that’s an exception surely?
Except that with Shit-Faced Shakespeare the whole point is that one of the cast gets deliberately drunk before proceedings commence. Just one mind you, the rest do their very best to remain professional and in full character all evening. In fact, they generally succeed, which given the events that go on around them is an incredible feat in itself. They even manage to give the impression they could do this properly if required. But I doubt it would be half as much fun.
I can’t recall seeing a Shakespeare play that features a compere. Especially one who proudly shows us the empty cans and bottles that the drunk actor in question has consumed beforehand, consisting of two cans of Budweiser and a whole bottle of prosecco. Quite a feat when it turns out tonight’s chosen one, Beth-Louise Priestly, can’t weight more than maybe seven or eight stone. In fact, it seems a miracle she even remains conscious all evening, although, at one point, that was a close call.
This is adult panto pretending to do Shakespeare. If you believe the Bard’s work is sacred, this is going to offend. And it’s likely to be even more offensive because Priestly really can’t control her mouth. Shakespeare may have been well known for his expansive use of the English language, but I doubt he would have understood some of the colourful words coming from her mouth tonight. But if you don’t mind that the ploy really isn’t followable, both because its condensed and the drunk cast member can hardly remember her lines, then Shit-Faced Shakespeare is without doubt a very entertaining thing to behold.
The ensemble are clearly well practiced in their craft, whether that be acting or drinking, They’re also highly skilled in the art of ab lib as they adjust to their colleague’s drunken ramblings. I don’t recall Santa Claus being in any of the Bard’s plays, but tonight he was referenced throughout as our drunk became transfixed on the ho-ho-ho’ing laugh of an audience member that she kept returning to over and over. I also don’t recall ever seeing a Shakespearian wedding almost not happen as the bride to be decided to declare that she preferred the girls anyway. Her groom had to work hard to get her back on track!
My one real issue with the show was that there were sections of the audience clearly enjoying their own voices way too much. Yes, this is so close to panto that it encourages audience participation, but when it almost becomes heckling it is, to myself at least, rather grating. Especially when the joy of this show is in hearing some of the random utterings from our drunk star and the ad libs from her fellow thespians, utterings lost at times to those over-eager audience members.
Shit-Faced Shakespeare is always going to be a love it or hate it show. It was clear on this occasion that there were many present who had been before, whilst others, myself included, were witnessing this for the first time, but knowing they would return again. It’s so clear no two performances would ever be the same. After all, you never know which lucky (or is that unlucky?) actor is the one who is picked to get drunk beforehand, and as we all know, no two drunks are ever the same! They say artists suffer for their art. For Priestly, that surely means one hell of a hangover in the morning.
Author: William Shakespeare
Adapted By: Lewis Ironside
Director: Stacey Norris
Producer: Beth-Louise Priestly
Box Office: 020 7734 2222
Booking Link: https://leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873562224
Booking Until: 16 September 2017