SH!T-FACED SHAKESPEARE: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Leicester Square Theatre
“It is utterly chaotic, but that’s the glory of it”
A staple of the Edinburgh fringe, the premise of Sh!t-faced Shakespeare is simple: it’s a traditional Shakespeare performance (with liberties taken for comic purposes, of course) where one performer is, for want of a better word, sh*t-faced. That performer rotates every night, as do the cast, and the roles. No two performances will ever be the same…
Don’t go to this if you’re expecting a genuine production of Much Ado, it’s more like a crazed improvised performance, with chunks of Shakespeare loosely hanging it together.
Luckily, the sober performers are also packing in the gags and the quick improv. There is a risk with the concept that when the drunk performer isn’t on stage, the audience is left merely watching a Shakespeare play, and maybe not a great performance of it. However, this is not the case with this troupe – a running bit about Benedick having chlamydia, quick one-liners about choir boys and priests, dragging an audience member into the fray – this cast (and director Stacey Norris) know what they’re doing and do it well.
It is utterly chaotic, but that’s the glory of it. When things go wrong (and they do, often) it is part of the fun. Mics cut out, parts of the set (designed by Nicola Jones) are thrown from the stage, costumes fall apart, it all makes it more ridiculous, and more joyous.
A crucial role is played by the compare, for us it was Beth-Louise Priestley, who is on hand to keep the show ticking over, much to the horror of the drunk performer (Flora Sowerby) who seems mostly to want to monologue about the beauty of beards. Priestley runs around, mopping up spills, gathering Sowerby back from the audience, where she’s escaped, and blowing an air horn when things get too messy. There are times when this isn’t enough, and the chaos takes over, people talking over one another and all aiming to grab the spotlight. Most of the time though, it works well. Very well.
Sowerby shines as a drunk Beatrice, but the rest of the cast are also very strong. Holly Durkin and Matthew Seager make a very sweet Hero and Claudio, and Chris Lane is a deliciously evil Don John. John Mitton is a particularly quick Benedick, who manages to keep character, even while delivering witty one-liners. Stacey Norris delights as Leonata, bringing a real joy and feminist flavour to a usually boring part.
7pm is quite early for this sort of show, it feels like it could’ve been in a later slot, but no one seems to mind and the roars from the audience demonstrate that even on a Wednesday at 7pm, people are very up for this.
Reviewed on 12th July 2023
by Auriol Reddaway
Photography by AB Photography
Previously reviewed at this venue: