The concept of Shit-Faced Shakespeare, if you have never seen The Magnificent Bastards at work before, is fairly self-explanatory. A company of actors are performing one of Shakespeare’s works. One of those actors is blind drunk. The show must run to an hour. Herein lies the challenge.
Whilst most of the attention is drawn by the drunk performer, the real talent displayed here is in the ability of the other cast members to improvise and adapt the play according to which character is drunk, giving them more stage time. After all, the audience has paid to see them – not the rest of the play. And with the drunk performer (in our case Angelo) often veering off-text, their appearances dominate the evening.
These scenes are unquestionably highly entertaining – with our Angelo doggedly determined to appear sober for as long as possible, before giving up and using his black cloak to become nightmarish prehistoric bird of justice. Thematically, a drunken Angelo making arbitrary and bizarre decisions (demanding that Lucio cut off Claudio’s ‘Winky Dink’) fits nicely into the world of the play, with the other characters and the actors portraying them reeling from the rule of this theatrical tyrant.
Consequently, the rest of the play suffers in comparison – neither particularly compelling or comedic. Comic stage business has been choreographed to fill the gaps, but fails to hit its mark. From such excellent comic improvisers (and the whole cast shines when it comes to quickly constructing an appropriate one liner) I expected better invention than the reliable punchline of Lucio thrusting at the air or stroking their giant codpiece. The costumes are a jumble of generic Renaissance amdram accessories. An exception was the actress portraying Isabella, who considering the circumstances brought an extraordinary gravitas and stillness to her role. Her riotous scenes with Angelo gained a poignancy amongst the parody, and were the highlights of the evening.
Watching Shit-Faced Shakespeare is like being in the company of an entertaining drunk friend – hilarious for a time, although an hour sober in their company and the experience gets a little stale. At the same time – you’ll never know what might happen, and you certainly won’t forget your night with them.