REVIEW: SHIT-FACED SHAKESPEARE (Leicester Square Theatre) ★★★★★

Take six classically-trained actors, ensure they learn a cut-down version of Shakespeare‘s ‘Much Ado About Nothing‘, and perform it with one of the members brilliantly intoxicated – there is simply no better way to liven up the Bard!

As beloved as Shakespearean works are, no one can deny that the modern spoken word has travelled a long way since then – less “How art thou” more, “Yo man, waddup?”. Breaking up the intensity of the big W’s famously heavy and drama-loaded prose with modern-day colloquialisms is delightfully pleasing, and gave a lightness to the experience of Shakespeare that I have never come across until then.

The play is loosely guided by the script, but holds enormous room for improvisation following the actions of whichever actor is inebriated; often a scene would collapse into hilarity due to a slurring of lines, or jumping ahead or backwards in plot, or a staging issue that begins a chain of mess and delight. The wonderful thing about the work of Magnificent Bastard Productions is that you don’t need to have a prior knowledge of the play to understand the performance; the chopped-down version of the classic is written to summarise key plot points in order to let your brain relax and enjoy.

James Murfitt took to the stage as a drunken Claudio this evening, exerting a great deal of natural charm and an irresistibly ‘cheeky chappy’ sense of humour, only increasing with each drink that our charming Compere thrust upon him. Beforehand, I couldn’t help but wonder if a genuinely drunken presence on stage might eventually become tiresome, or feel over-acted, or deliberately annoying, but I was soon put at ease by the subtlety of Murfitt’s approach to the task. The drunkenness was nothing if not a perfectly timed and perfectly dosed addition to the action, not at all overbearing and successfully squashing any of my pre-show concerns. This isn’t just 70 minutes of bumbling, erratic slapstick, however – there is genuinely beautifully-recited Shakespearean prose, with passionately performed scenes and an undeniable professionalism, despite the play’s joyfully silly catch.

We had before us a cleverly-assembled cast of performers, who were all clearly chosen due to their capacity for wit and charm both sober and (when professionally required) inebriated, also with an obvious affinity as a theatre troupe, judging by the way they bounced off one another brilliantly. The actors were all accomplished and well-cast to their roles, but particularly excellent casting was that of Beth-Louise Priestly, whose manifestation of Hero was both vibrant and engaging, exactly as she was originally written.

There are too many fantastic aspects of this show to mention, and I wouldn’t want to ruin its delights by going into too much detail. One of the glorious things about this production is that every night will be unique, which makes it a whirlpool of potential for fun. I judge a performance based on several things, but one of the main signs I look for is how engaged the rest of the audience around me are – and wherever I looked I saw hands over mouths and bodies bent over, shrieking with laughter. Without a doubt, if the Bard’s stories were told a little more like this in school, far more kids would have paid attention.

Highly recommend; definitely take your best friend, Nan, cat and neighbour.

Reviewed by Laura Evans