If you read my blog post a few days ago, you will know that last week I attended a performance of Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare, and I’ve finally got round to writing about it.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about; Sh!t Faced Shakespeare is a show that has been running all over the UK and even all over the world. They perform classic Shakespearean plays with one big twist – one of the actors gets completely and utterly drunk before coming on stage. The premise is very simple: Shakespeare + Drunk Actor = Hilarity All Round. And to be honest, it delivered. It was probably one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a while, and while it wasn’t very clever or witty (apart from some great improvised lines from some actors), simply watching the chaos of a drunk person trying to perform Shakespeare, and their fellow cast mates trying to save said Shakespeare was genuinely brilliant.
The play they performed was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, arguably one of Shakespeare’s more well-known comedies that features 4 intertwining plots all happening at the same time in a magical forest (to give you a very, very basic idea it involves fairies running around a forest making people fall in love with other people that they have no business falling in love with.) For anyone who is actually familiar with Midsummers, Sh!t faced Shakespeare performed a very cut script that only involved the plot line of the 4 lovers; Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena. Again, to put it simply; Helena is love with Demetrius, who is in love with Hermia who in turn is in love with Lysander. Puck the fairy comes along and makes the two men fall in love with Helena and chase her around the forest until Puck puts it right. A cut show was a great idea in my opinion, as they only had five actors whereas the original script has nearly 20 parts, so while performing a full Shakespeare production with that number of people is by no means impossible, it certainly made things easier. Not only from the actors point of view (though it definitely would have been interesting to see the drunk actor struggle with remembering which character they were supposed to be playing at any point) but also from the audience perspective, as I imagine not many people were extremely familiar with the whole story and the lovers plot line they chose made it very easy to understand what was going on, even when the script wasn’t always stuck to.
One of the most unexpected elements of the show was the initial introduction by the compere. A man in very tight sparkly trousers bounced on stage and basically explained what was going to happen, going through the premise of the show and explaining how it was his job to wrangle the drunk cast member and make sure everything ran as smoothly as it could. This was something that I really did not expect; I just assumed they were going to go straight in with the show, we’d all bought the tickets so we all knew roughly what was going to happen. But actually, it was a stroke of genius in my opinion. Having someone there to introduce the show added another level to the performance and the fact that they needed someone to keep an eye on things gave away just how much it clearly goes off the rails. Plus, the guy who was doing it was very funny, and I always appreciate funny. He almost had the best role in the show, as he got to watch his mates do silly things and interrupt where he thought necessary. I always found myself keeping one eye on him (as he would crouch on the edge of the stage) and watch his reactions to the antics. Herding the drunk person can’t have been easy, and at one point he completely lost track of them whilst trying to clean up some confetti, hastily dropping his broom and screaming “you’re supposed to be on stage!” The compere even got some great moments with the audience, being thoroughly booed as he poured a drink with too much head and shouting in response “It’s my show! It’s head or nothing!”. He even got the biggest cheer of the night when he caught a plastic cup the drunk actor threw over their shoulder.
Following on from this, there was a lot more audience participation than I thought there would be. Whilst doing his monologue at the beginning, the compare explained that to ensure that our drunk friend would not get *too* sober throughout the show, he needed two volunteers. Now of course, my hand shot straight up. And to my delight I was given a small “single use” trumpet that I was to blow whenever I though the actor should have another drink. And I was absolutely delighted at that prospect. I had to have a couple of goes to get it right and had to have a quick practise in the interval to make sure I could get it to make a noise. He asked me if I’d ever blown in public before… And apparently I hadn’t as when it came down to it I struggled to get a noise out of it. I used it right at the beginning of Act 2, with the show stopping after I sounded and lovely Helena downed a plastic pint glass of beer (“no she’s absolutely not having the bottle”). There were two other audience items also; a gong that worked like my trumpet, and a button that set off two confetti cannons, to celebrate a good bit of Shakespeare from the drunk actor. While it definitely led the performance even further off the rails with their performance affected by not only a round during the interval but a further 3 pints on stage, it was all in the spirit of the show. If anything, just made the second act that much funnier, with Helena and Hermia ending up together, as well as the two men (diverging ever so slightly from the original plot.)
For the show that I saw, the lady who played Helena was the one chosen to have gotten hammered before the show (the exact amount she consumed was revealed to the audience with a flourish, as the compere showed off a tray full of empty bottles). I actually got a little bit of insider information, as I was curious as to how they determined which actor was going to be drunk, as pulling a name out of a hat to me has a lot of potential for liver disease. We pounced on one of the actors after the show and had a quick chat, and he told us that not only was there a rota as to who was going to be drinking at each performance, they also rotated characters in the show, with each actor having 2 characters that they swapped every night. This is mainly done to ensure that it wasn’t the same person getting drunk every time, for obvious health reasons, but also I imagine it was to help keep the show different every night, and fit into the one of a kind performance they were promising.
In my opinion, Helena was the perfect choice to be drunk. She appeared in the most scenes with the most people, and since the two men both fell in love with her, her drunkedness and confusion almost fit perfectly into the script. She had some fantastic moments too, and actually it took a while to figure out it was her that was drunk. They didn’t actually reveal the drunk actor at the start of the show, something that I really liked since it meant every audience member spent the first five minutes of the actual show, which was a dance number, trying to figure out just who it was who was drunk, to have it spectacularly revealed to us when she stumbled back onstage after dancing. There was a lot of inuendo from Helena, which is kind of almost expected. She spent a lot of her time on stage pushing the men under her skirt and kissing them. At one point she even pointed to the back of the stage to say how it looked like a vagina. Even though it was quite lewd, it was genuinely funny. She even managed to break “the one rule of Sh!t Faced Shakespeare” and said the word C**t to the comperes’ absolute horror (and to the audiences delight. Well, mine at least.) Any of the 4 lovers would have been great as the drunk character, and I imagine they pick solely from them as the only other character in the show was Puck, who spent most of her time monologuing to the audience. One of the best things about the drunk persons antics was seeing the 3 sober cast members improvise around her to try and keep the show going, or at least get some funny jokes in, so in my opinion Puck wouldn’t have worked as well as the drunk character as they didn’t get that much interaction. I admit I don’t know much about the actors backgrounds, other than that they have all done Shakespeare previously, but you could definitely tell they had all done improv at some point. All 3 of them were so quick and witty and had some fantastic comebacks and jokes in response to Helena. Even though she caused the show to descend into chaos at some points, there was never an awkward moment or fumble on stage while the others tried to figure what to say. It was very slick and genuinely funny, and there were some points that were such good improv it felt like they had definitely been rehearsed. Funnily enough, however, despite the improv we were told at the end that she actually said more of the Shakespearean dialogue than usual, and even stuck to the script fairly well.
The only part of the show that I didn’t like was Puck. That probably isn’t very fair to say, as Pucks character was there to drive the plot along, as he (or in this case, she) is the one that makes all the different characters fall in love with the wrong person using “love juice”. Because of this, she didn’t really interact with the rest of the cast, only to administer the “love juice” while they were sleeping (more on that in a moment) and had one 5-minute skit with an audience member and that was pretty much it. Bu the overarching reason why I didn’t like Puck was purely because they were the one character who was trying to be funny, and unfortunately failing. Their monologue was full of asides in modern day language, which are far from uncommon in Shakespeare performances, but in this scenario just really weren’t funny. There was the token Brexit joke of course, and just a lot of other jokes that you could tell were supposed to be jokes but didn’t really land a whole lot of laughs. They were also quite lewd, in that fact to administer the “love Juice” she would dry hump their faces, which lasted far to long and made me cringe just a little. All these reasons are of course entirely hypocritical, as I literally just wrote how lewd and therefore funny Helena was. But the crucial difference in my opinion is that Helena was drunk, and nothing she did was really planned. Whereas the dry humping was scripted in, and I found myself wishing I could fast forward through Pucks scenes to get back to the spectacle that was the drunkenness (Just to mention, I say this with no shade to the actress who played Puck. She wasn’t bad by any means, just unfortunately not as funny as the drunk lady.)
Interestingly, the audience in the theatre was very mixed; everyone from students, to couples to OAP’s were there to watch, with a good number cheering to say that this wasn’t their first time seeing the Sh!t-Faced show. It was a good mix of people, some that were surprising to me but at the end of the day it sold itself as a show that appealed to a lot of people, as well as there being lots of signs in the foyer warning you of what was to come in case for some reason you weren’t sure. Notably, almost every single person had a drink in their hand; even me and my boyfriend indulged in 2 cocktails apiece at dinner before. That’s not to say the show encouraged drinking at all, but more that the show quite rightly leaked into the theatre atmosphere. The point of the performance was not to see a serious piece of theatre, one that provoked deep thoughts or questions from its viewers, but rather a show that was purely for the audience’s enjoyment. All it was ever going to be was an evening of laughter and comedy. Does that make it a bad piece of theatre? Absolutely not. Does it make it a bad performance of Shakespeare? Well that depends on your definition of bad. In the end it wasn’t really a Shakespeare show, more an improv comedy show (with a twist) that was based on Shakespeare. And while that definition suits it well, it in no way diminishes the overall performance, and just how much the audience were laughing and loving it.
The problem I sometimes have is that because I enjoy theatre so much and, not to toot my own horn, know a lot about it and a lot about plays and productions, I tend to have a habit of treating shows very seriously and analysing them as if I was writing a literature essay (as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now if you’ve read this far.) But at the heart of it, Sh!t faced Shakespeare was just a good show. We got exactly what we paid to see; a few actors messing around on stage trying to perform Shakespeare. And I absolutely loved it. The show was well worth the ticket price, about £20 each, and I would really love to go and see another performance whilst they’re on tour, just to see a different actor be drunk and enjoy the show again, but with an entirely different performance.
At the end of the day, the performance I saw of Sh!t Faced Shakespeare was exactly what it said on the tin: Shakespeare performed shit-faced. And I for one am 100% okay with that.