Shitfaced Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Review by Steve Bennett at the Leicester Square Theatre

Shitfaced Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Review by Steve Bennett at the Leicester Square Theatre

As this kingdom becomes a stage for so much reverential Bard adoration, Shitfaced Shakespeare restores his work to the bawdy pantomime so much of it would have been back at ye olde Globe.

Its gimmick, as the title attests, is that one of the players has got pissed before the production, while the audience gets into high spirits too, with rowdy interventions including demanding the chosen actor ‘neck it’ as he tops up his blood alcohol level mid-show.  That’s on top of a general hubbub of chatter and checking of mobile phones in the Leicester Square Theatre. ‘But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?’ ‘It’s Stacey checking her Tinder…’

Our plastered performer is, of course, no less rude. We’re told Rob Smythson, playing Demetrius in this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has quaffed more than half a dozen bottles of beer before curtain-up, and is now lolloping around the stage, groping his fellow performers, getting easily distracted from the plot, forgetting his lines and offering loud asides about the story. He becomes a mischievous, nominally out-of-control commentator, saying what we’re all thinking and throwing chaos into the formality. Classic lord of misrule behaviour.

However, he seems, to be more acting drunk than being drunk… as if this were an improv exercise in which one of the team is allowed to go off-track. And some of the escapades, or variants thereof, surely happen night after night. The Magnificent Bastards team have performed this show 350 times now, in Edinburgh, Brighton and the States drinking, as they proudly tell us, more than  20,000 units of alcohol in the process.

Drunken antics can be brilliantly hilarious if you’re a participant, but tiresomely irritating if you’re an observer in a different frame of mind. For me, too much of these high jinks fell into the second category, although the majority of the crowd would boisterously disagree. And the way the team delight in the old-fashioned music hall buffoonery of it all certainly help sell it. 

Maybe my reservations come because this revelry is taking place at 7pm in a proper auditorium; I’m certain I enjoyed it more in a  late night Edinburgh Fringe dive a few years back. Or maybe just the novelty wears off.

Here, some of the meta-elements seem a little laboured, some of the mugging a bit too desperate to be outrageous. Although sometimes a genuinely funny line or bit of business punctuates all the lightweight skylarking, too, adding extra laughs.

Almost any semblance of the original play is lost, of course. Pages have been ripped out in any case – a brief bit of audience interaction replacing the whole troupe of ‘rude mechanicals’, Bottom et al – to fit a 70-minute running time which is further eroded by Milton’s incessant larking about. Luckily the plot of magic potions is all preposterous enough to be able to take this butchery, but it would surely be better to have a more solid base on which to build the chaos.

As it is, Shitfaced Shakespeare feels like a single-sketch idea that’s got wildly out of hand. But maybe with a few more drinks inside me, I'd feel different...

• Shitfaced Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until June 11

Review date: 29 Apr 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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