Sh!t Faced Shakespeare – Pre-Show Thoughts

In a couple of days, I will be making my first cultural foray into the city of Nottingham since moving here last weekend.  Whilst it will undoubtedly be the first of many, I am very excited to see what Notts has to offer in terms of a theatre scene, and I think I have found the perfect place to start. On Saturday 5th October, I will be going to see the much talked about Sh!t Faced Shakespeare performing A Midsummer Nights Dream – oh and I’m dragging my boyfriend along too.

If you haven’t heard of Sh!t Faced Shakespeare, let me catch you up. Their premise is simple; first imagined at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2008 (because of course it was), Sh!t-faced Shakespeare takes the traditional Shakespeare plays you all know and love and adds its own unique twist – one of the cast members gets absolutely smashed before going on stage.

The production describes itself as a “unique theatrical experience that has left audiences roaring in the aisles world over”. And its true, the Sh!t Faced Shakespeare productions that have happened over the last 10 years have received a great deal of positive reviews, all claiming how hilariously funny it is to watch, as well as numerous awards. In reality, even the fact that it has been going on for nearly a decade across multiple countries is all you need to know that it’s a good show that continues to maintain its audience. After all, the bard himself claimed that “Good wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used” and is not a bit of banter in the form light entertainment on a Saturday night the best use?

Regardless, my thoughts are slightly mixed at the moment. I feel like it will either be absolute genius, and I will laugh so hard throughout the whole thing, or it will just be so unbelievably cringe that I will barely be able to look at the stage. Don’t get me wrong, drunk people are inherently funny. And drunk people trying to remember Elizabethan English are probably even more so. However, in my experience, drunk people are only funny if you’re drunk too, otherwise they’re kind of just annoying which is where my concern comes into play with this show (and why I tried to convince my boyfriend that having a few too many drinks pre-show wouldn’t hurt). Sure, it’s a comedy, but what kind of comedy is it going to be is my question. Though I also think a lot of the humour is going to come from the sober actors’ reactions, as I imagine watching their friends cavort around on stage pissed is definitely going to make a few, if not all of them break at some point. And I can definitely see there being a lot of improv from the sober actors, just to make up for the drunk persons errors. In any case, we’re probably not going to see a Shakespeare at all, and I imagine the comedy of the text will go unnoticed with the drunkard and subsequent improv in the limelight.

Of course, there is the third option, which is that the whole show is just aggressively fine. Like nothing spectacular just fine, perfectly watchable, just Shakespeare with a little bit of a twist. However, I don’t think it will be “just fine”, and I do think its going to be a very funny night – and in keeping with the productions premise, completely unpredictable.

I think the one thing that is going to make or break this show, is which actor, and therefore which character gets drunk. If you look across Shakespeare’s comedies, there are actually several character in several shows where it makes some semblance of sense for them to be acted as drunkards. For example, in my opinion the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet would be a good candidate (in fact I myself played her as an alcoholic in a school production), or even characters like Jaques in As You Like It (though I’m sure many people would disagree with that proposition, please don’t be mad at me!) Throughout his plays, there’s plenty of drinking and being merry, so having drunk characters isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. However, when you get to a key character in the play of which a lot of action is centred around, that’s when I can see the show coming into some problems. For example, if we look at As You Like It and say that the character of Rosalind is the one who is drunk, that is going to have a significant impact on the play, since Rosalind is the main character and has over 200 lines in the script. Since she has the most stage time, her being drunk (and likely getting her lines wrong or deviating from the script and staging) its going to have a  big impact on the show, to the point where its not really a production of As You Like It any more. I am assuming here that it is a full company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and not a condensed or abridged version (though of course I imagine there will be some lines or scenes cut for time). Though if I am wrong (as I know a previous production of Much Ado About Nothing they did was only six actors strong) then that will be very interesting in itself, as I’m intrigued as to how they would have condensed it down. And if any parts are double cast (as often happens in Shakespeare’s due to the sheer amount of bit parts that occur in the bards plays) that would again add a whole new dynamic of one of those precious few cast members were drunk; as a higher percentage of the show, and a higher percentage of characters would be drunk and performing to different standards. Two different websites about the show I’m seeing have told me two different things; one says that the character will be ‘randomly selected’, another says the cast member is “carefully selected”. I’m curious to see which it is, and I am tempted to ask someone at the end just to be sure. The random character would surely cause more chaos, but knowing before hand would help put a cap on the chaos to the extent that it will be less wild, but still the same level of improv (in my opinion) – I definitely want to know how they choose and I will definitely be *that person* who finds a member of the production team and to ask my questions.

I admit, I’m not the most familiar with A Midsummer Nights Dream. I read it a few years ago but haven’t seen it performed nor watched a filmed version, so I am going in somewhat blind since I don’t remember the details.. I am debating refreshing my memory and having a quick read through just to get my bearings, just as I feel that the best way to experience this kind of show is to have an idea of how it *should* be performed, and then watch the chaos unfold (as well as have a better idea of when the actor is verging from script) However I am in two minds about it, as I also feel like its good to come in with a fresh mind. Whilst I realise up to now, I’ve been slightly disparaging of the idea, I am also a huge advocate for the accessibility of Shakespeare, and I feel like this is a great way to bring in audiences to Shakespeare productions. Its no secret that I love Shakespeare, and if you read an article I posted a while back its important to keep Shakespeare accessible to the public, and even though performing Shakespeare drunk definitely falls on the side of gimmick, if it gets people to the theatre, and gets people willing to see a Shakespeare, if they enjoy it maybe it will spark something in them to find out more, or see another production later on. When it comes to getting people interested in Shakespeare, or into anything for that matter, its all about the hook. Once you’ve caught the bug for theatre and Shakespeare, its very very difficult to get out of it. So, in that respect, I’m all for Sh!t Faced Shakespeare, and I am tempted to go in without re-reading the text to get as close to that experience as possible.

Regardless of what happens, I know its going to be a fantastic night and I’m really excited to kick off what is hopefully very many theatre visits whilst I am living here. My final thought on the matter before sitting down in the audience, and I will be sure to write down my post-show thoughts too – is that we’re not going to see a Shakespeare, rather an improv show based on one. And I think I’m okay with that.

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