Saturday, 22 June 2019

REVIEW: Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare: Hamlet at the Leicester Square Theatre

Sh*t faced Shakespeare have been playing the stages of Fringe Theatres and festivals for over nine years and has honed the art of condensing the Bard's work into its seventy minute format (the first ten minutes seems to be a Health and Safety briefing to set up the context for the show)of the lowest common denominator nonsense. It attracts a different sort of audience to the usual West End Theatres being young couples and parties of twenty-somethings all with drinks in hand as they settle into their seats. They know what they have come for and lap up every silly moment of the action, presumably as a warm up before getting sh*t faced themselves.

The pre show video claims that the format has been seen by over 250,000 people. This was my first and only time. The success of the evening depends on:
1) Having a passing knowledge of the original play, although the leaflet helpfully gives a synopsis.
2) Having a few drinks yourself before going to the show. 
3) Believing that the selected actor is really very drunk rather than simply a little merry and acting up the part. It's difficult to tell - they are actors after all.

However the blurb assures us that they really have been drinking for four hours before the show and to expect foul language and outrageous behaviour and the drunk delivers on cue to the false outrage of the compère, Beth-Louise Priestley. Her main concern was recovering the props flung into the audience by our drunken Hamlet, David Ellis who was fuelled by two thirds of a bottle of Tequila. He smiled throughout, wobbled a bit, sat down a lot, sucked fingers In welcome and uttered all the correct Shakespearean words, though not necessarily in the correct order. 

The rest of the ensemble cast fitted in around these two, occasionally responded quickly to a mis said line but generally just got on with the show. When they were on stage alone the pace slackened, the audience interest dipped and you craved the drunk's reappearance. There was an amusing sequence when an audience member from the front row was cajoled onto the stage to play Polonius and then die elegantly before having his arm chopped off by a blow up sword. There were positives. It is a good backcloth of the interior of Elsinore Castle and the costumes by Lorna Jean Connell looked fresh, new and appropriate for the production. 

It is hard to imagine this show breaking out into the mainstream like "The play that goes wrong" and its derivatives but it does take the fringe improv play in a different direction replacing audience input with the apparently random musings of the drunk. Whereas the "Showstoppers" format still feels fresh each time you see it, I can't imagine Sh*f faced Hamlet will feel refreshed even when a different six of the nine cast perform with a different drunk, so that they each only get drunk four times each month. I am unlikely to ever find out if it does.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★

Seat: Stalls row G | Price of ticket : £22
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