Thursday, 21 July 2022

REVIEW: Sh!t-faced Shakespeare presents: Romeo and Juliet at The Leicester Square Theatre

Shitfaced Shakespeare is a Shakespeare company with a twist and a stumble that has been luring audiences since 2010 with a simple yet effective concept. Each night, one selected cast member from whatever show they are putting on, is made to drink for 4 hours before stepping on the stage and the curtain rises. The rule is that they must be well and truly ‘shit-faced’ by this point. The remaining ‘sober' cast members are then required to accommodate their inebriated peer by justifying and improvising around them and also to continue to drive the action of the ‘actual’ play. It could be a comedy or tragedy being performed, but the drinking game, as it were, remains the same. 

For my first experience of a Shitfaced Shakespeare performance, I went to see their un-holy latest take on Romeo & Juliet and my lucky drunk was none other than Juliet herself. As a comedy show having originally found its feet in the fringe scene, this is a pared-down version of the classic but keeps in all the much-loved key scenes of the play like the balcony scene, death of Mercutio and final death scene. Along with the five actors, the show also incorporates a compare into the mix to help the drunken proceedings along. This is done mainly by making sure the inebriated actor stays that way by handing them more drinks (with help from the audience). Overall the show, also, takes artistic liberties to promote more bawdy and comedy-driven antics. 

So, after establishing all this it is safe to say that no matter what, a show like this is probably going to be one hot mess and hopefully a whole lot of fun… which it is, to a point. Unfortunately, the assignment gets forgotten and instead, it turns into 6 performers who don’t know whether their show is a pantomime, a satirical version of Romeo or Juliet or a complete farce.

The most disappointing aspect about the show is that there is no clear understanding of the comedy they are using. From the compares desperation for the audience to understand ‘there is alcohol in the show’, to no finesse in the physical comedy and force-fed d*!%k jokes every step of the way, very little in terms of the scripted comedy lands. The actors playing the Benvolio/Nurse and Mercutio/ Fryar Lawrance just want to show you how ‘funny’, dirty and loud they can be. This plays as if they think the audience is stupid and won’t get what’s happening unless they're hit over the head with it.

Ironically, the performer with the best comic timing was Juliet, who, whether or not was dealing with scripted or unscripted material found ease with her drunken task at hand and was the actor I had the most trust in to follow the brief. The actors playing Romeo and Tybalt/ Lord Capulet, also on a positive note, have a dynamic in their key scenes that has more consistency and contrast to Juliet’s shenanigans. They are still heightened and ridiculous but more successfully work with their material.

It is a fun night out but less than a cheap laugh far too often of it. There is just too much going on and the simple and very clever brand the company have created gets diluted. 

If you read some Shakespeare, there are plenty of clever and funny dirty jokes through the lot of it. As he writes in Hamlet, “Let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them—for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too…”.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★
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