Edinburgh Fringe 2013
"An entirely serious Shakespeare play – with an entirely shit-faced actor… Back for yet another year, the legendary Magnificent Bastard Productions stagger up to Edinburgh with the most raucous Shakespearian performance you’ll ever see! Grab your mates, get your round sorted, and sit back to watch this finely crafted chaos"
Shit-faced Shakespeare is one of those shows that changes enough from night to night that plenty of people see it twice or more. The audience at my performance was certainly full of return customers, with the front row full of die-hard fans, eagerly hoping to be pulled onstage.
After last year’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Magnificent Bastard Productions have moved onto Shakespeare’s most popular rom-com, Much Ado About Nothing. A few hours before each show, the six classically-trained actors draw straws, and the winner (or loser?) has to drink solidly until the performance begins. Hence “Shit-faced”. Two audience members are given the power to bang a gong or honk a horn if the actor ever seems like they’re getting too sober, adding to the overall student union vibe.
As a rule, drunk people aren’t funny, but somehow this company have hit a winning formula. The concept is a little gimmicky, but happily most of the audience are there for the gimmick. Plus, the the Magnificent Bastards have added enough of their own jokes and ad-libs to the play that it’d probably be a very entertaining show even without the drinking.
This show wouldn’t stand up if it weren’t for the experience and quality of the actors. They’re not aiming for the RSC, but they’re great at the improv comedy skills required to deal with things like a drunk actor going off-script and starting to rant about Stanislavski or do an impression of a dog. At my performance, Benedick was the drunk, adding a slightly campy, Russell Brand-ish side to the character. As a result, Beatrice ended up in an almost maternal role as she tried to drag him back on topic.
The audience was roaring with laughter all the way through, even the people who were there for the second or third time. Whether or not that was thanks to the bar at C Venues, we’ll never know. But in the name of professionalism I was sober, and still found the play to be pretty damn funny. The only caveat I’d make would be to remember just how changeable this show can be. Everyone who’s seen Shit-faced Shakespeare seems to have a different story to tell, but the experience is completely dependent on luck of the draw – literally. After multiple beers and half a bottle of gin, Benedick was more inclined to forget his lines than do anything particularly outrageous, but the audience were still lapping it up.
Recommended, if only for the sheer unpredictability of each night’s performance.