REVIEW: Sh!t-Faced Showtime: Oliver With A Twist (Leicester Square Theatre) ★★★★★
There’s always something delicious about adding a modern twist to a classic; the success of Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare over the past few years has proven that mixing “dost thou cometh” with “yeah mate I’m not gonna lie” works brilliantly well. Born of the same creators, Sh!t-Faced Showtime has reached the stage, this time with a spin on a Dickens classic: Oliver Twist. But what’s so different about this adaptation, you asked? The clue is in the title: one member of the cast is unequivocally sh!t-faced from start to finish. Yep, there is a bucket next to the stage “just in case”, and we are shown just how much alcohol the actor has consumed before we start.
In case you aren’t familiar, the tale tells of orphan Oliver who escapes his job as an undertaker’s apprentice and heads to London. There he meets the Artful Dodger, a member of a pickpocketing gang run by the elder Fagin, and he is dragged into a life of crime that precedes several dramatic events. In this version, the script has been cut down to an hour to include the just main parts of the story.
It takes a matter of seconds to figure out which one is tonight’s victim, as the actors assemble for the opening scene – Tom Tilley has consumed over half a bottle of vodka and is giggling as he sways side to side. We are treated to a mixture of dancing and singing, with comedically-clunky set changes and some very amusing props. The cast worked as a cohesive unit, skilfully moving the action forward no matter what the twists and turns, and clearly getting on as well offstage as they did onstage.
There is an element (better than nothing) of health and safety here: our compere (the captivating Jess Hern) is on hand at all times to make sure that the boisterous Tilley is behaving himself and nobody gets seriously hurt, and most importantly, protects the glass of beer he is drinking from being knocked over between acts. There’s a good amount of audience participation, which encourages our drunken actor to have a fresh drink. Tilley delivers some absolute bangers throughout, clearly improvised, and has the audience in uproar. At one stage I saw about 30 arms thrown up in an outburst of tear-fuelled laughter – so I suppose you can say that the atmosphere in the theatre was fantastic.
One of the most amusing parts of this concept is that you just never know what’s going to happen when you put a very inebriated person under the spotlight – there’s a degree of preparation involved, sure, but you can’t plan for the accidents that occur or the improvised dialogue, and that’s what makes Sh!t-Faced’ creations feel so unique. This production encompasses what ‘light-hearted fun’ means, refusing to take itself too seriously and having one goal only: to entertain its audience as much as possible with silliness. The background structure of Dickens’ tale is there, but it’s been catapulted into 21st-century Leicester Square and seriously jazzed up with liquor and sass.
If you don’t like improvisational theatre and prefer loyal remakes, this isn’t for you. If you have a great sense of humour, love a bit of occasional nonsense and enjoy watching professionals butcher a classic, then this is ALL you.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Rah Petherbridge