Shit-faced Shakespeare, in many ways, is the logical endpoint to the Fringe’s multitude of irreverent Shakespeare shows: a show unconcerned with creating any level of satire or parody towards its subject matter and so often referred to by only the first word of its title, that I’m largely convinced that the majority of audiences are oblivious to the play they’re actually watching.
“a grey, pale imitation of a parody”
There’s nothing wrong with that per se and, in their early days, Shit-faced Shakespeare was undoubtedly an exciting and original proposition, taking these exalted texts and tearing them down them, purely by throwing an inebriated actor into the mix and watching them struggle with Shakespeare and their cast mates struggle with them. Intriguingly, the company chose Measure for Measure to perform last year, a decision which felt ill-judged, given its relative obscurity outside regular Shakespearean theatre-goers. The prospect of taking the playwright’s most famous text was therefore promised; a return to the form of their excellent A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I saw five years ago.
Unfortunately, the problems of last year remain. The premise of Shit-faced is undoubtedly interesting and the most disappointing aspect of this show was its failure to follow through on such promise. For instance, the shit-faced actor (Mercutio on this occasion) didn’t appear anything more than faintly tipsy, thereby making the advertised level of jeopardy utterly absent. Equally, if the show were to offer a robust and entertaining presentation of a ‘highbrow/lowbrow’ divide of sorts, with ‘proper’ Shakespeare at one end of the scale and ‘rowdy’ Shakespeare at the other, the scenes not involving the drunk performer needed to be played far straighter and without the irony shown in this performance. The pleasure of the show ought to be in seeing these two worlds collide and, with neither the shit-faced nor the Shakespeare played to the extremes required, the production ended up falling somewhere in the middle: a grey, pale imitation of a parody, with the sober actors offering performances as loose and incoherent as their colleague.
Therefore, I left Shit-faced Shakespeare unsatisfied and disappointed. There’s a case to made that, with the company playing at increasingly large venues, the show has lost the lairy intimacy it possessed when I saw them at C venues in 2012. The function of the compere, who frequently steps in to prevent chaos erupting, while understandable in extreme cases, also nullified any dangerous or subversive edge the show might otherwise have had. It is not without pleasures, but, sadly, Shit-faced Shakespeare continues to produce increasingly diminishing returns.
Underbelly – Udderbelly, 2nd – 28th August, 22:15
Image: Magnificent Bastard Productions