The scene: a flat in South London.
The characters: Eleanor, A Serious Professional and Cai, A Very Patient Man.
Eleanor is reclining on the sofa. Cai is sitting next to her. The hour is late.
C: What did you go and see?
E: Shhhhhit-faced Shhhhakespeare. [Tries to sit up, fails, much giggling]
C: OK. Do you want to sit up while I interview you?
E: Noooo. No I don’t. [In a dignified voice] I want to stay down here where it’s safe. [Giggles]
C: Okaaaay. [Laughs]
E: Cai? You’ve got to interview me! You’re supposed to be asking me questions.
C: I know, but I’m not good at this. You should interview me. This is your job.
E: But you didn’t see the show. That would be terrible! [Giggles]
C: What show?
E: Shit-Faced Shakespeare, I told you.
C: No, I mean which Shakespeare was it?
E: Oh, Much Ado About Nothing, sort of. But it was very silly. Very silly show.
C: Is that a twins one?
E: Noooo. It’s Beatrice and Benedict, who hate each other but really love each other.
E: And then Hero and Claudio, and Claudio’s a douchebag and thinks that Hero is cheating on him so he doesn’t just say I don’t wanna marry you, he waits til they’re at the altar and then he’s all like “you’re a wanton strumpet!” and she’s like “no I’m not” and he’s like “I saw you having sex out the window” and she’s like “it wasn’t me” and he’s like “no no no, you’re a whore”, and then she faints and they all pretend that she’s dead.
C: Huh. OK. Who was the drunken one?
C: Except for you, I mean.
E: Hero. Shut up. [Giggles] Don’t be mean. It was Hero, so when she’s supposed to fall in love with Claudio and he’s a dick, and then realises his mistake and is like “oh, I still love you, let’s get married”, she’s supposed to be all like “oh, I still love you, too, let’s get married”. But this time she was just like “nah, you’re a dickhead”. That was quite funny.
C: Tell me more about it?
E: It was very funny. I’ve seen it before, lots of times, and the joke is the same every time, but it’s quite a funny joke.
C: Is it the same cast as before?
E: Yes, some and some. I have a theory. I don’t think the drunk person is as drunk as they seem to be. I think they’re a little bit tipsy and then they play up to the crowd.
E: But it was quite funny. No-one got naked this time, which was a shame.
C: I’ve not seen one where they get naked.
E: Oh! They get naked quite a lot. Well, some clothes off, anyway.
C: I’ve only seen it once, I think, In Edinburgh with you. It was Twelfth Night.
C: No, wait, it was Midsummer Night’s Dream.
C: [Grumpy] They’ve all got the same name. And the same plot. Shakespeare was good at a lot of things, but naming his comedies was not one of them.
E: It was very funny. They’re all very good at ad libbing and keeping the play going, and feeding lines when the drunk person is going off script and being a big old doofus.
[Brief interlude where C tried to persuade/help E to sit up, and E screeches.]
E: I don’t wanna sit up!
C: But we need to go and brush our teeth in a minute.
E: I’m busy. I’m reviewing the show.
C: OK. Tell me more.
E: Ummm… I was trying to think of more things to say and then you swung me all around and now my brains are all… scrambly. It was very silly, everyone’s very silly, it’s a very silly play.
C: But the audience enjoyed it? It was a good audience?
E: Oh, yes. Very raucous. They pulled a guy out of the front row, to play Margaret, who is the serving girl they pretend is Hero to be like “oh look, I’m banging Hero, oh no it’s really Margaret hahaha we’re so clever”. They pulled out this older guy with a beard, who Hero kept calling Santa Claus, which was funny. He had a very deep, bass voice, and it was quite funny.
[Cai plugs in his phone, which he is using to record the conversation]
E: That’s mine!
C: No, it’s not.
E: It might be.
C: This one is yours.
E: That’s mine, too.
C: OK, Ellie.
E: [Deep sigh] Um… the costumes were very silly and Shakespearian, and Hero kept getting tangled up in her skirt, which was funny.
C: Did your friend enjoy it, too?
E: Yes, I think so! But we had some wine during the show and then we went out for more wine after the show, and now… I’m drunk. I think the show is very funny, but it’s only one joke so you have to surrender to the silliness. You have to be in the right mood for it. You have to go into it with an open mind.
C: Suspend your disbelief.
E: Definitely! Anyway, that’s probably enough now. I’m not going to like listening to this in the morning, am I?
C: Final thoughts?
E: It’s funny and I enjoyed it. It’s a good night out if you’ve had a drink or two, but it is very silly and not going to be to everyone’s taste. That’s it. It was good.
C: OK, I’m going to stop recording now.
In the cold, cruel light of day, I stand by pretty much all of my “review”. It’s a good night out for Shakespeare nerds, if you’re not too precious about plot, script or, um, anything else. It’s basically pantomime Shakespeare – take the rough plot outline, reduce the cast down to six characters, throw in some topical references and you’ve got a Shit-faced Shakespeare version of whichever play they’re doing. As discussed above, it doesn’t really matter which play it is.
The amusement is in watching the five sober actor trying to stop the show from derailing completely, wrenching it back on course as necessary. Of course, the drunk actor is playing for laughs. A lot of the asides and references to YouTube or Twitter get huge audience response but feel tried-and-tested. Having seen these guys do their thing quite a few times, it does start to look formulaic. But, it’s a formula that works. It still makes me laugh, the audience loved it, and it’s excellent, silly fun.
I’m not convinced you’d be able to follow the plot if you didn’t know the story in advance, but it doesn’t really matter. Everyone is just there to hear a woman in full Elizabethan dress call someone a dickhead. The twenty-first century, feminist inserts are the funniest, and the savvy cast play up to this really well. If you’re in an irreverent mood, and have perhaps enjoyed a glass or two beforehand, you’ll have fun.
Shit-Faced Shakespeare are performing Much Ado About Nothing until 16th September 2017 at Leicester Square Theatre. Click here for more details.