It turns out that if a group of young classically trained actors get sh*t faced and do Shakespeare, they make it infinitely funnier, pacier and more feminist without insulting the original.
The Sh*t Faced Shakespeare gang have been a fringe hit for years with their improvised retellings of Shakespeare’s most well-known works before making it into the big time in the West End. The concept is simple: a few hours before every show, one of the actors (chosen at random) gets completely hammered. They then lurch their way through a heavily abridged version of a play. Their current offering is Romeo and Juliet.
The show is kept on track (and safe) by brilliant and sparkly compere (Stacey Norris). One audience member is given a gong and another a bugle, which they can use just once, at any time during the show, to demand that the drunk actor has another drink. I’ve also heard rumours that the drunk actor must take a shot every time they go offstage. In summary: the drunk actor is really, truly off their thespy face.
There is not a great deal new to say about this company. Their shows are incredibly popular and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a tried-and-tested format and the actors are consistently funny with strong audience rapport and great improv skills.
Every night is different; chaos naturally lends itself to some inconsistency. The night I saw the show, Juliet (Beth-Louise Priestley) was sh*t faced, her dagger was replaced for safety reasons by a soft toy snake which she then did sexy dancing with, and she renounced the tragic ending by waking up just in time to live happily ever after with Romeo after all. It was pure joy.
It is clear, through the haze of silliness, that there’s a truckload of talent on the Sh*t Faced stage. If the actors weren’t so thoroughly professional, watching this show would be akin to watching your drunk mate trying to get themselves home after a big night: funny for five minutes before becoming incredibly tedious. Luckily, they’re all fantastic, so it’s more like watching a YouTube compilation of the funniest ever drunk fails.
Shakespeare was first and foremost a storyteller and an entertainer and Elizabethan audiences at the Globe theatre were notoriously raucous. I think he would have been proud to see Sh*t Faced have fun with his work. But even if I’m wrong, and even if you love Shakespeare (but especially if you don’t), this Romeo and Juliet is worth a watch.
Reviewed by Annabel Mellor