REVIEW: Shit-faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice (Leicester Square Theatre) ★★★★
Having enjoyed the follies of Shit-Faced Shakespeare many times at Edinburgh Fringe, I was very excited to see how they might transfer their original/insane/ingenious dramaturgy to London’s West End. Produced by Magnificent Bastard Productions and created in 2010 by East 15 Graduates, the company has an impressive list of credits to their name including performances in Australia and the USA and producing sell out runs at Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes each year. Now, The Merchant of Venice has sailed into Leicester Square Theatre – a Shakespearian classic, with an inebriated twist.
The premise of the show is an interesting one – a cast of six professional Shakespearian actors all arrive at the theatre early, to help one of their actors get “Shit-faced”. Despite being intoxicated, the 70 minute show “must go on”. Much of the humour derives from the other five actors desperately trying to stick to the Bard’s precious work, whilst having to abide by the rules of improvisation which state “Thou must say Yes!” to whatever the drunkard decides to do – or indeed not do – live on stage.
I have purposefully not included a synopsis of The Merchant of Venice here, as I feel for any Shakespeare aficionado’s watching, you might be bitterly disappointed, and for anyone who doesn’t already know the show… it’s probably easier if it stays that way! The company create an exciting, inclusive atmosphere as you enter the theatre with banterous announcements from cast members, preparing us for a unique theatre experience. The stage design is simple – I imagine the less is more philosophy has been deemed safest -and we are indeed in safe hands with brilliant compere Saul Marron. His job is to guide the audience through the proceedings and explain the rules of the company. Health and safety measures were humorously addressed and must be commended as all the actors did well to look after their drunk co-actor without distracting from the comedy.
Audience interaction is well received and whole-heartedly embraced as you feel invested in and a part of the show. Louise Lee’s was our “Shit-faced” actor and her antics were thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. Her many drunken ad-libs were bonkers and brilliant, leaving the audience rooting for her. The interesting mixture of French, Italian and what other cast mates described as ‘broken English’ were much appreciated. I feel the comedy was strongest when Lee was trying extremely hard to say each word as written – and failed beautifully! The ensemble is tight and all cast members went along with the interesting plot twists whole heartedly, particularly Will Steward as the cunning Shylock. However, at times, I did feel that some ad-libs were slightly pre-empted by the sober cast and escaped the world of Shakespeare slightly.
Generally speaking, as the cast take their bow, you aren’t quite sure what you’ve watched, but you have had a lovely, memorable evening! It’s a very accessible show, whether you are a buff of the Bard of a complete novice, the audience are drawn together by the love of watching a drunk person, desperately try to perform a coherent show in the West End. It’s a real treat and I’m sure Magnificent Bastards will continue to have a hilarious, slightly blurry, future ahead of them!
Reviewed by Lisa MacGregor
Photo: Rah Petherbridge