[You can find our more about Shitfaced shows in our chat with performer/ producer James Murfitt here]
When one half of the title characters has spent the past four hours drinking half a bottle of vodka (and more), you get the inkling that the performance of Shakespeare you’re about to witness may be less conventional than other adaptations. And with a tale as known as Romeo and Juliet, that’s exactly what’s needed.
This copious drinking before a show is a task assigned to one actor a night ahead of a Sh!t-faced Shakespeare performance, following which they take on their role as rehearsed and perform as best they can, with the rest of the cast adapting as chaos ensues. This was explained with gusto ahead of the performance, by the evening’s enthusiastic compere, Lucy Farrar. Throughout the production, Farrar was an energetic and consistent presence, engaging the audience from the outset and highlighting their vital role in the production as she handed out various instruments, including a gong, a horn, and a bucket. Her role also echoed that of Juliet’s Nurse, as she watched on from the wings (and often further onstage) to ensure the drunk Juliet remained unhurt (and in the right scene!).
Juliet (Jessica Brindle) was our joyous drunk for the evening, providing lots of laughter and even an unexpected happy ending. Despite many sentences being slurred or forgotten halfway through – and likely some lost entirely – Brindle is obviously very talented, which she recognised herself, breaking out of character at one particularly intense moment to confess, “I’m doing some of my best acting right now.”
Brindle’s inebriation meant her scene partners had the added challenge of keeping the show on track when it was altered by mistakes, or moments that attempted to derail it, from cheeky, improvised questions to Juliet laughing whilst playing dead. Richard Hughes as Romeo was particularly strong at this, never hesitating to respond in character to the curveballs coming his way. Moments that could have become messy stayed clean because of his, and others’, commitments to their smooth improvisations. The cast multi-roled with distinct characterisation and vigour and the entire company worked well together, their closeness as a team apparent throughout.
With a run time of 110 minutes, the script and characters were appropriately trimmed for a pacy and punchy retelling of what is perhaps Shakespeare’s most iconic play. Set (designed by Nicola Jones) and costume (Lorna Jean Costumes) were an homage to a more traditional staging (except the cans of Kopparberg on the drinks stand that awaited pouring at the sound of the gong or horn), making the untraditional, drunken veering of the performance all the more disruptive and exciting. The direction was playful and the transitions smooth (barring when Juliet was required to help move a set piece). My one gripe with the performance was the interpretation of the Nurse, played by the incredibly talented Stacey Norris. Whilst Friar Lawrence was a creative (and probably controversial!) reinvention of the character, the Nurse felt like an underwhelming stereotype that deserved more. However, Norris’ stellar talent meant that she still drew a reaction from the audience.
Joy was present throughout this reinvention of Shakespeare’s tragedy, the surprise happy ending proving doubly happy when the bucket offered to an audience member in the front row remained unused. With a revolving cast and a different drunk each night, Sh!t-faced Shakespeare Presents: Romeo and Juliet feels like one to return to several times over.
Original direction and adaptation by: Lewis Ironside
Directed by: Stacey Norris
Set Design by: Nicola Jones
Costume Design by: Lorna Jean Costumes
Fight Captain: Robbie Capaldi
Produced by: Stacey Norris, Beth-Louise Priestley, Leicester Square Theatre
Sh!t-facedShakespeare Presents: Romeo and Juliet is playing at Leicester Square Theatre until 10 September 2022. Ticketing information can be found here.