REVIEW: HAMLET by Sh*tfaced Shakespeare (Leicester Square Theatre) ★★★

Before I begin, I’d like to reflect that I have seen several criticisms that this company lacks refinement but to that I would say that if you go to a kebab van, you wouldn’t expect Gordon Ramsay’s finest beef wellington, would you? You’d expect a greasy donner, so why change your standards when coming to the theatre? If you’re coming to a show which advertises under the name “Sh*tfaced Shakespeare” it should be pretty clear you’re not going to get Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench. Sh*tfaced Shakespeare are not aiming to offer us any form of authentic Shakespeare but simply a bloody good night out full of tequila, belly-laughs and expletives… lots and lots of expletives.

For those who are still unfamiliar with the concept of Sh*tfaced Shakespeare, I shall offer you brief summary. A small cast of professionally trained actors gather to perform a heavily abridged version of a Shakespeare play. Four hours before the show, one of these actors begins to drink themselves into a stupor and then proceeds to perform their role(s) in the play as accurately as possible. The evening is monitored by an MC who ensures Health and Safety regulations are adhered to but who also riles up the audience and pours the drinks for the Sh*tfaced actor throughout the performance.

When I saw “Romeo and Juliet” it was Juliet who was drunk. When I saw “Oliver (with a Twist)” it was Oliver who was drunk. I was so hoping to see someone not in a titular role affected by alcohol, alas for “Hamlet”… it was Hamlet. David Ellis bravely tackled the role after two thirds of a bottle of tequila and several lagers. He delivered some of the greatest speeches in literature at an immeasurably fast speed, clearly in the knowledge that if he didn’t spit the words out quickly enough, they’d never come out at all! He thrived in falling around the stage whilst giggling to himself and relentlessly try to suck his cast-mates fingers… (clearly, a traditional Danish greeting in the mind of this drunkard.) MC Beth-Louise Priestly struggled to maintain order as he tore apart a book and flung pages into the audience, at one point almost taking the eye of the poor lady sat behind me clean out as a huge chunk of the binding succumbed to his strength! (Be warned….. these productions can be a violent affair!)

As Laertes was Richard Hughes whom I had previously seen as Romeo, and was thrilled to see him back on the stage once more. His comedy is superbly executed and this production would have been seriously lacking without him. Matthew Seager also played the audience well and pandered to humour at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, there was a significant drop in pace whenever Hamlet left the stage. There was a great effort involving a randomly selected member from the audience to fill this void, however the audiences desire to see Hamlet stumble back on to the stage was palpable and so we were left wanting.

The culture of being drunk and having genuine fun is what Sh*tfaced Shakespeare is all about and even as a sober audience member, I was still able to howl with laughter so there’s clearly something special here. If you’re going to see Sh*tfaced Shakespeare, you’re in for a night of raucous laughter and it really is that simple. If you want the real deal, go see the RSC at The Globe.

Reviewed by Harriet Langdown
Photo: Rah Petherbridge Photography


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