Performer and co-producer James Murfitt tells us all about preparations for the first ever Shitfaced Christmas show A Pissedmas Carol
Let’s start with the story. It’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ but not as we know it, what have you kept and what have you thrown out?
All of the bare bones of Dickens’ original story are still very much intact: Scrooge still hates Christmas, he still gets visited by three ghosts, he will still learn a lesson…of some description. Basically, we have a through line of the story as Dickens wrote it but with added Christmas songs, dances, puppets (although, sadly, no Muppets – and Michael Caine still won’t return our phone calls) and other assorted festive frivolities thrown in for good measure, and it still takes place in Victorian London as Dickens would have intended it, it’s all just highly dependant on whether or not the designated drunk for the evening fancies carrying out what we have set out to do. We’ve added some gender flips here and taken a bit of creative license with other sections there but we were very keen to rehearse a play as close to the original as possible (albeit in a condensed one hour format) so the drunk has a rich, fully rounded story to undo. An entirely serious play with an entirely Sh*tfaced actor, as some fool once cited.
Would you say it is kind of pantomime?
I would say Pissedmas leans more towards a Pantomime than a straight retelling of A Christmas Carol, certainly. As I mentioned previously, we have added Christmas songs, gender flips, a bawdy Dame, audience interaction, snowballs, mince pies, crackers, knob gags…Actually the more I go on I would say ‘leaning’ is perhaps a tad understated… We are very much drunkenly stumbling slap bang into the middle of a Pantomime. I mean, we’ve ruined Shakespeare and Showtunes for the Purists so why not a good old fashioned Panto? In all seriousness, a lot of our shows retain a certain larger-than-lifeness and we’re definitely not ones to veer away from cheekiness and lewdness, so one would probably argue that all of our shows to date, both Shakespeare and Show-time, have a lot of the Pantomimic about them.
Getting drunk on the job is a pretty unique gig, how does it work? Do you enjoy it?
We have a show rota so the actors know which nights they will be drinking well in advance, so they know not to plan any major life events for the next day like filling out their tax return or going to a Pizza Express in Woking. Getting paid to drink, what’s not to enjoy? We drink our favourite tipple (sadly Bollinger and my favourite Chateau Neuf Du Pape don’t factor into the show budget so I settle for Gin and tonic) for four hours before the show starts. During those four hours the drinking is supervised by a show runner, the drunks eat a meal, play games, listen to music, set fire to their eyebrows, race discombobulated manatees, anything to put them in a positive mood for the show. Afterwards they are put on a water hour, which, depending on the level of drunkenness, can last anywhere between an hour and the whole of Lent.
What is your history with the shows? How did you come to be involved and what have you done before?
Having performed predominantly in Shakespeare plays prior to auditioning for the company, I joined Shit-Faced Shakespeare a few years ago, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Since then I have been a very lucky chap and apparently did not disgrace myself too much while intoxicated, as I have been repeatedly invited back to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as at the Leicester Square Theatre and at the Adelaide Fringe. I was then approached by the producer of Showtime to co-produce Pissedmas, combining casts of both Shakespeare and Showtime into the same production.
How has the process of merging casts from Shitfaced Shakespeare and Shitfaced Showtime been?
It’s been a great experience – everyone has their own unique set of talents they bring to the fore and that only raises the whole standard of the show. I was initially quite daunted having to sing in front of the Showtime lot but then I learned to tune them out with my own tuneless singing and we seemed to find a nice equilibrium of tuneless tuning out which in its own way was rather quite tuneful.
Can you tell us about Magnificent Bastard and what they do?
We love to create genuinely chaotic theatre which hinders the sober actor at all costs, almost a paid punishment for having stupidly selected such a notoriously difficult profession in the first place. We love what we do and we are genuinely a big family. A family that gets hammered with each other on Christmas day and then angrily throws the Monopoly board into the fireplace before being sick on the cat.
What’s coming up next for you, and the company, after this?
I will be heading out to Australia again early next year to perform Hamlet in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide with Shit-faced Shakespeare. Having seen how well our shows go down with Australian audiences before I’m really looking forward to bringing the Drunk Dane Down Under (That’s what we should have called it). As well as bringing back their Edinburgh Fringe smash hit ‘Alice Through the Cocktail Glass’ to the UK next year, Showtime have got some other smashing shows in the pipeline that I do not know if I am allowed to say too much about, but I hear their next Edinburgh show will be monstrously good fun. We will also be performing Macbeth (which we took to the Edinburgh Fringe last year) at the Leicester Square Theatre July – September 2020, so do come along for that if you’re not too tired of the theatre having seen Pissedmas Carol there 17 times already.
A Pissedmas Carol is on at the Leicester Square Theatre 20 Nov 2019 — 5 Jan 2020 – more info and tickets here