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Phil Willmott

Sh*t Faced Shakespeare: In praise of bad theatre

Shitfaced Shakespeare The capital's theatre scene boasts a plethora of top class Shakespeare productions starring some world class names. Sh*t-faced Shakespeare isn't one of them! It's a shambles and that's why people love it.

The public's appetite to see shows done deliberately badly never ceases to amaze me. The West End regularly contains two shows by Mischief Theatre Company, currently The Play That Goes Wrong (also now on Broadway) and The Comedy About a Bank Robbery both of which flirt with the premise that order could collapse at any moment and a big part of the appeal of Showstoppers: the Improvised Musical is the edge of the seat danger that it could all mess up. Even Shakespeare himself revels in the comic potential of amateur actors being bad. Think of the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream or the inept masque at the end of Love's Labour's Lost.

The Sh*t Faced Shakespeare team doesn't even pretend that you'll get a quality theatrical experience at the Leicester Square Theatre. The idea is that at each performance one of the actors has got intentionally drunk, cast members take turns to down a few beers and half a bottle of spirits before the show. The rest remain sober and respond to the inebriated mess the incapacitated performer makes of their short production, edited down from one of the more popular titles.

At the present time they're massacring the bards witty and arch tragi-comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, in which two unlikely and argumentative lovers are tripped into understanding their true affection for each other whilst a more idealistic romance crumbles amidst lies and deceit. Although that doesn't really concern us here or the cheap looking scenery and costumes on display. The attraction is not poetry, imagery and a meditation on the profound mysteries of love; it's seeing how much of a fool a drunken actor is going to make of themselves in public.

Some of the mayhem is rehearsed but a great deal of the comedy truly comes from the unpredictability of having an intoxicated cast member who's incapable of retaining the strictly rehearsed structure that's traditionally drummed into actors during rehearsals.

In describing this as I have I'm aware I sound disapproving. In fact the opposite is true. People love this show, the unpredictability of it is genuinely laugh out loud funny and perversely instead of making actors look stupid you emerge admiring the ingenuity of the sober performers who have to keep the laughs and the plot on track. It even makes you hear the Shakespeare lines afresh, which is always rewarding. I'll even admit that If you go to a lot of Shakespeare, as I do, a pissed up Much Ado About Nothing is actually a more enticing prospect than yet another traditional production trudging through the much performed masterpiece.

Incidentally some very fine actors submit themselves to this process and it's been a massive hit at The Edinburgh Festival and in previous London visits.

Highly recommended as a silly night of escapist entertainment which also might, just might, reveal some truths about the dynamics of alcohol and friendship and the stale nature of some conventional theatre.