Not Quite a Comedy of Errors

I love Shakespeare, it’s a love that’s grown through time though. As a child I remember a massive tome of a book that sat on one of my parent’s bookshelves of his combined works, I found the size of it frightening and the seemingly foreign language it contained mystifying. My first school set work was A Midsummer Nights Dream and my imagination was ignited by its playful nature and that it included fairies and a character named Bottom who grew a donkey’s head. Further set works through high school intensified in drama (and exam essay fodder) and my love of the Bard’s poetic, elegant language was born.

Titania and Bottom as depicted by Edwin Landseer in 1848

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the annual outdoor Shakespeare performances held at the open air theatre in Maynardville Park in Wynberg, Cape Town – the best and still my favourite being a production of Macbeth that interpreted the three witches as bald, pale and muscularly defined men, over six feet tall and wearing blood stained loin cloths. I’ll never forget the surprise and fear struck into the audience as they came out glaring directly at us, hissing menacingly. On this side of the pond attending productions at The Globe is always a treat and seeing The Tempest a few years ago starring Ralph Fiennes remains a special memory. 

Offered the chance recently to see Much Ado About Nothing in Leicester Square, a play I’m not familiar with, sounded like a cultural Friday night. The catch however, was this was a Magnificent Bastards Productions performance fully titled Shitfaced Shakespeare.

What it says on the tin

Describing the show as classic with a modern twist doesn’t quite do it justice. The scene was set by a very bubbly compère who explained the ‘rules’ for the night. She revealed one of the actors had consumed two thirds of a bottle of gin – not enough to incapacitate her completely, but we could guess she was more than warmed up. The compère also handed out props to the audience, a gong and a trumpet, to be bashed or blown at the audience member’s discretion if they felt at any point the intoxicated actor ran the risk of sobering up.

One unfortunate audience member was also elected to hold The Bucket. This person needed to be near the stage – just in case the inebriated cast member needed to make use of The Bucket, they would need to make themselves available rather quickly. I looked forward to the carnage. The drunk performer for our show was playing Hero – one of the principle characters. She made her state known quite quickly in the first scene by clinging to the waist of the actor playing her cousin, Beatrice.

Due to its unique nature this was a condensed version of the play running at 70 minutes. Just as well, my face hurt from laughing so hard. The rest of the cast delivered their lines professionally while responding to and attempting to include (and indulge) the ramblings of Hero who forgot her lines, swore and stumbled about. The running joke was her habit of chatting to the audience which, after removing her from the very edge of the stage for her safety the actor playing her mother, Leonata, announced ‘Oh, the gardener’s are in’ and chastised Hero for ‘talking to the staff’. Other cast members had to include this ‘excuse’ a few times as Hero seemed to prefer engaging with the front row rather than her cast mates.

We all laughed boisterously throughout, guffawed really. Of course the gong and trumpet were both sounded during the show, much to Hero’s delight. Upon hearing these the sober actors froze in position and Hero was poured a drink by the compère who checked in with us as an audience that we were still enjoying ourselves. This prompted an enthusiastic cheer each time.

This work was utter chaos. It was hilariously well crafted, even though it all appeared to fall apart on stage. Considering the actors take turns to inebriate themselves makes each show literally a unique performance. I have to applaud the sober cast for keeping it all together and taking everything in their stride. Not quite the culture one would expect from a Shakespeare performance, but this perspective has made me love The Bard even more. I would highly recommend this for a raucous and unpredictable night out. It definitely encouraged us to head out to Soho for more drinks of our own.

Not joking

The show runs into September and tickets can be purchased here: Box Office