Brighton Fringe 2015
Any improvised show involves elements of risk, and the shit-faced format carries more risk than most. Shit-faced Showtime carries off the new format well, but occasionally loses energy.
The show takes the format of a musical set in the 1920’s, with a cast of four people and a pianist. Before the show started, pianist/compere Dylan introduced the audience to the amount of alcohol that a shit-faced cast member had consumed: Two cans of Stella and half a bottle of run. One member of the audience was then given a triangle, while another was given a harmonica. At any point, these audience members could use their instruments to call for the inebriated cast member to take another drink. A safeguard was also provided in that Dylan could at any time play the opening chords from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to stop the show in the event of anything becoming too unsavoury, or illegal.
Dylan then moved back behind his piano and the show started for real. As the four cast members emerged onto the stage, it became immediately obvious which cast member was shit-faced. Forming a pose alongside her other cast members, Dora could not help but giggle through the opening number, while at the same time doing incredibly well to remember her words and sing in tune. A couple more songs followed in this vein until one of the audience members called for Dora to take another drink.
As the show went on, Dora became more boisterous and insisted on telling the audience which lines she wrote, which scenes she really liked, and which cast members kept getting their lines wrong. She also added herself into scenes that she was not scripted to be in, and stole other people’s lines. All four cast members were very strong performers and continued with aplomb. The real star of the show, however, was the cast member playing New Yorker Tony. No cast list was provided so his real name was not revealed, although Dora did reveal his sexuality when she was scheduled to kiss him: “It’s all right – he’s gay, he’s got a husband!” Both “Tony” and Dylan were very good at keeping Dora in order and/or carrying her off stage when she became too overbearing. Their one-line comebacks were excellent and clearly resonated with the audience.
The story was simple – a British family in crisis moving to New York to start a new life – which made sense as it was secondary to the main attraction of the show. The staging was simple – one piano in the middle of the stage and no props. Some physical theatre was used to indicate settings, which brought out moments of hilarity when performed by the drunken cast member. The (electric?) piano sound did get a little lost at times but the production values were generally good.
Reviewing a show with an improvised element is always tricky, as you are guaranteed a different performance every night. I felt the format was good, though I personally would have liked some more modern and upbeat musical numbers in the show – I felt the music made the show lack energy in places as it was a little repetitive. At times I cringed in sympathy, as we’ve all been around that friend who, when drunk, tries to make everything about them. For this reason, Dylan and Tony’s interjections felt heaven-sent at times, although I did long for them to do it a little more often.
What became quite obvious was that the show would be affected strongly by the type of drunk performing in the show. I would be interested to see the show again with a drunken cast member not quite as boisterous as Dora. That’s not to criticise Dora, just to say that the dynamics would be entirely different with someone who was a sleepy/loving/angry drunk.
The show succeeds in its mission. The audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive, but this show may not appeal to all. At times it felt like a one-trick pony, and it would have benefitted from some quicker, cleverer interjections.