Sh*t-faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice
“Why, sir, for my part I say the gentleman had drunk himself out of his five senses” (The Merry Wives of Windsor: Act 1, Scene 1). Or, in this particular performance of Sh*t-faced Shakespeare, a gentlelady. Magnificent Bastard Productions returns with its new run of The Merchant of Venice. One of Shakespeare’s great comedies, this play has been taken by the company and turned inside out, back to front and upside down for the pleasure of its audience.
With one member of the cast getting (genuinely) drunk and demanding the remaining cast members to improvise through Shakespeare’s work, the ordeal creates a scenario that one can only laugh at throughout. It is often said that actors should never attempt to craft their own Shakespearian verse and include it in one of his productions, in order to protect the sanctity of the great Bard’s work. However, the performers in Sh*t-faced Shakespeare are given very little choice and are quickly forgiven for having to respond to their cast member interrupting their scene with (in this particular case) repeated accusations of being a ‘Motherf*cker!’
It is indeed the task of the audience to release their preconceptions of what Shakespeare ‘should’ be and embrace the destruction of our stiff upper lip approach to his plays. By disregarding the supposed formality of seeing a play such as The Merchant of Venice, the Magnificent Bastard Productions team have managed to create something that splices together two opposites to create comedy gold. Even before the play has started, the host welcomes the audience and reveals to them the amount the actress had consumed. The audience sounded disappointed that it was only two beers and nearly an entire bottle of vodka – an amount I’m sure even William Shakespeare himself would be impressed by.
Anticipation, both in the production’s title and the opening two scenes which did not include the drunk character, was crucial to building up the laughs for when Jessica finally stumbled on stage. As a show that has been running for 9 years now, there were one or two jaded performances from familiar cast members from years gone by. The format of this fantastic show is, for the most part, much the same as when it first started and although it is wise to
stick to what you know – there is now a need to build on the premise and add more variants to show. Will Seaward was a shining light in this performance and successfully had the audience engaged and laughing despite not being the central, intoxicated focus.
After his hugely successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe telling ‘Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories’, Seaward is an excellent addition to the cast and showed us how to keep Sh*t-faced Shakespeare fresh.
It is, however, without question that Sh*t-faced Shakespeare is impossible to not laugh at. From outrageous expletives to badinage with the audience – Magnificent Bastard Productions have once again left their audience with tears rolling down their faces, sore cheeks and aching bellies from an hour of non-stop laughing. It was perfectly put by our drunk Jessica who, in her vodka induced state, shouted at her cast mates, “You’re taking this seriously Motherf*ckers!” No other show is foolish enough to throw alcohol at our beloved Shakespeare, but I’m sure glad these guys did!
Review by James Evans
So how does it work? Each performance has a cast of six actors, who all arrive four hours before the start of the show for a ‘party’ – however, this party is dry for all but one performer, who gets Shit-faced. The rest is a balancing act between the (trimmed down to an hour) Shakespeare script and improv rules, which state you must go with whatever the drunk actor decides to do. “Yes, and…” rather than “No, but…”. Every single show is a one-off. Every single performance has a different drunk actor. Every single time they are genuinely inebriated.
Formed in 2010 by a group of East15 graduates (largely), Magnificent Bastard Productions were just friends who loved creating unexpected and unpredictable theatre at music festivals such as Secret Garden Party. Shit-faced now performs across the UK, Australia and USA in Boston, Atlanta and Austin. They sell-out at the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes annually, and in 2015 expanded into Shit-faced Showtime, a pissed-up hour of harmonious Broadway showtunes. The Merchant of Venice will be followed by Romeo and Juliet (20th June – 1st September).
@shitfacedshake | www.magnificentbastard.co.uk
Running Time: 70 minutes | Suitable for ages 16+
Directed by Rev. Lewis Ironside and Stacey Norris
Written by William Shakespeare and Lewis Ironside
Ellen Chivers, Chris Lane, Louise Lee, Saul Marron, Stacey Norris, Matt Seager, Will Seaward, Rob Smythson, Leanna Wigginton
Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX
18 Apr – 2 June: Merchant of Venice | 20 June – 1 Sept: Romeo and Juliet