Pre show, I grabbed a flyer for Sh!tfaced Shakespeare. The early signs were not promising; according to said blurb the show features a cast of professional Shakespearian actors; each night one lucky victim is selected and carefully intoxicated for up to four hours prior to the show. The remaining sober cast members then have to navigate their way around the play with their drunken comrade in tow.
The play was introduced by the compare, a blonde sequinned ringmaster who screamed like a banshee throughout the evening; much like a newly qualified 18-30 rep. She explained the ‘rules’ and distributed a gong and bugle to audience members. Such instruments were to be used when the ‘victim’ got out of hand, or more precisely; if they weren’t drunk enough. Just to crank things up, an audience member was given custody of a tin bucket. And we all know what that’s for?! The compare then listed drinks consumed by the lucky victim who apparently has a fondness for tequila.
At this stage of the review I would normally run through the storyline, but honestly what’s the point? We were allegedly watching a production of Hamlet, but you would barely have known it. The play begins and the victim is clearly Hamlet played by David Ellis. He predictably falls over, fluffs his lines and misses his cue on a regular basis. He gleefully swears in response to hecklers; the compare offers a weak apology when he utters the ‘c’ word. The holder of the gong clearly thought he wasn’t drunk enough, so was given a drink. Hamlet was goaded to down the pint in one; because he’s about to deliver the ‘to be or not to be’ speech. Tee-hee what a jolly jape?
It was frankly, ill-conceived, self-indulgent nonsense. This requires no skill or artistry and ignores any sense of comic timing. The cast are clearly talented actors but such ability is sacrificed for cheap laughs. I also question whether David Ellis was drunk at all; he is a trained actor and eminently capable of turning the trick. Just how often has the tin bucket been required in the many performances of this show? If he was drunk, it’s a solitary gag that wore off after ten minutes. Sh!tfaced Shakespeare is the archetypal fringe show gone global. They have found a formula that works spectacularly well; of that there can be no doubt. But I am disturbed the formula works as well as it does. Anyone can get drunk and make a fool of themselves – does that pass for entertainment now. Or are they simply replicating what many people do on a Saturday night?
It really is amazing what you can get away with; but this goes way beyond simple snobbery. It appeals to the most basic instinct; how funny we think people are under the influence of alcohol. It’s not always pretty to watch particularly when it’s presented as entertainment.
Author: William Shakespeare
Original Direction and Adaptation: Lewis Ironside
Director: Stacey Norris
Producer: Magn!f!cent Bastard Poduct!ions
Box Office: 020 7734 2222
Booking Link: https://leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.co
Booking Until: 14 September 2019