Sh*t-faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice


Shit-faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

Leicester Square Theatre

Reviewed – 19th  April 2018


“perhaps unsurprisingly, not for the purists, but a joy for everybody else”


Magnificent Bastard Productions’ Shakespeare adaptations have a very simple premise; the plays are performed straight, but one of the actors has spent a few hours before the show getting very, very drunk. For predictable reasons, namely not giving the actors a deft case of cirrhosis of the liver, Magnificent Bastard Productions rotate a large cast around various roles, providing different characters and actors with the opportunity to drink. On the evening of this review, Louise Lee was the drunkard du jour, playing Shylock’s daughter Jessica.

The humour (and therefore the meat) of this wilfully uproarious production comes from Lee’s inability or unwillingness to perform her role as intended, resulting in ridiculous and often abstract tangents to which the sober actors respond. In this sense, Shit-faced Shakespeare has much in common with traditional improvised shows, but with the madness sourced from just one highly unpredictable actor. Further cementing the improv feel of the show is the inclusion of a compere (Saul Marron) to introduce the rules of the show and provide occasional commentary/support on Lee’s antics.

And antics there certainly were. It’s hard to gauge where the drunkenness stopped and Lee’s blank cheque to cause a nuisance began, but the contrast of her stumbling (through half-remembered lines and also stumbling more generally) against a traditional cast of actors ‘doing Shakespeare properly’ is genuinely very funny, if occasionally fundamentally at odds with dramatic contents of a given scene. Where some of the best laughs, as always with improv, come from are the baffled attempts of performers to go along with whatever insanity has just been established; I occasionally felt as though one actor constantly being the butt of the joke, whether willingly or not, lent a slight sense of cruelty to the proceedings. It might have been nice to have the compere introduce Lee as the star of the show during the introduction – a more personal touch might have lessened the occasional, nagging feeling of being part of a baying mob.

I sometimes wonder with improvisation whether things would in reality play out differently the following night, but I had no such concerns here; this is a neat and effective take on improv, allowing for a genuinely unpredictable atmosphere, with control of the piece flitting between the compere, the sober actors, the drunken Lee as Jessica, and, in a delightful touch, even the audience.

Overall, this was a great Summer chortler that provides glorious improvisation madness under the guise of a classic Shakespeare play. Shit-faced Shakespeare is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not for the purists, but a joy for everybody else.


Reviewed by Matthew Wild

Photography by Rah Petherbridge


Shit-faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

Leicester Square Theatre until 2nd June 2018



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