Sh!tfaced Shakespeare is exactly as billed; classically trained actors performing a serious Shakespeare play, while one of them is seriously drunk. “With one cast member selected at random and given four hours to drink before every show, we present to you classical theatre as it was always meant to be seen.” With a firm belief in making the Bard accessible again after centuries of dry, stiff performances, Magnificent Bastard Productions proudly delight in resurrecting the hen-night-stag-do chaos inherent in some of the plays’ dirtier passages.
Working from a neatly abridged forty-five minute version of Macbeth and running at sixty minutes (“because of the drunk”), the show is an impressive feat with precise comic timing, bold showmanship and blood pumping through its veins. Louise Lee opens the evening with a glitteringly filthy Riff Raff-Magenta lovechild ringmistress, who explains the rules and sets the tone for newcomers (“Who would like to blow my bugle?”, “Your face looks wipeable…”) and then returns throughout the hour to cat-herd the drunk and facilitate the audience-led top-ups for the sh!tfaced Lady Macbeth (here played by Maryam Grace).
Full of innuendo, sleazy come-ons and too-drunk-for-this-sh!t costume discards, it’s not for the fainthearted. Scattered between Lady M’s charismatic, glassy-eyed staggering from one scene to the next (or disobediently sitting down on the set), watching with admiration and mumbling “oops” as her fellow witches perform incantations and dances she doesn’t quite catch up with, there are moments of genuinely exciting theatrical choreography and truly great acting. For all the shouting and rushing to get to the end of the play in time despite the derailments, it’s difficult to believe Grace is actually as drunk as she appears, because the chaos is so masterfully steered.
The Victorian merry-go-round space provides the perfect backdrop for the timelessly lewd clowning that ensues, and the raucous crowd it draws is clearly the intended target of those more on the side of drink than of what we know as Shakespeare – likely exactly the environment one would find at the original Rose. Highlights include a missed entrance due to an impromptu toilet visit, the “out damn spot” speech being swapped for some Notorious B.I.G., a remote-control-car-mounted Fleance puppet and a brazen crash of the serious and the silly in Macbeth’s (James Murfitt) death by gruesome head-cutting, moments before MacDuff (John Sebastian Petherbridge Mitton) returns brandishing a huge, crass fake head.
The bows end with a triumphant beer-can salute and middle finger up from the cast, the audience braying for more.
Catch the show once more at the Great Yorkshire Fringe tonight at the White Rose Rotunda on Parliament Street, York; tickets and further information here.