The sobriety of Shakespeare is absolutely smashed in an evening of bumbling, booze-y buffoonery – ★★★★
The grieving Prince of Denmark has never looked so pissed. Part of the fun of the improv comedy Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare comes with finding out which (un)fortunate member of the cast had to get drunk four hours before the performance. It’s not that hard to find out, mind, as an intoxicated Hamlet (David Ellis) enters banging a drum a little too enthusiastically in the opening scene.
It’s hard to recognise a line of Shakespeare in this shortened down, 70-minute version of the Bard’s classic. The actors, having to contend with the burden of a drunk, adapt their dialogue to their colleague’s script-defying antics in a way which makes the final production incomparable to that of Shakespeare’s work. The exception being Madeleine Schofield’s Ophelia, who as the actress least disturbed by Ellis’ drunkenness the least, is able to deliver prose and song with impressive clarity.
Otherwise, swords are swapped for brushes, Hamlet is constantly interrupted whilst delivering that monologue (a shame when Ellis butchering the speech undisturbed would likely be far more entertaining), and Ophelia’s stuffed dead corpse is flung into the audience. The ill-fated Dane is supposed to be ‘mad’, but with a fire in his belly – and several alcoholic beverages – this prince isn’t too far off.
Yet there is method to Hamlet’s madness – or rather, drunkenness. Compere Natalie Boakye does well to maintain a sense of narrative in amongst the farce in a cheery, hyperbolic manner, yet at times her interventions to press on with the show cut short a comedic moment with Ellis on-stage. The use of her air horn is understandable to avoid any tedium that may come from a drunk’s slowing performance, but that fear is resolved through audience participation. A gong and a trumpet are handed out to two members of the crowd to sound if David comes across as too sober during the performance. Such a device works well to derail a well-executed monologue, or to liven up an interaction between characters.
Lively despite a stumbling cast member, Sh!t-Faced blitzes through the work of the Bard in a way which leaves one a tad disappointed that it doesn’t run for longer. Yet with a different drunk every night, and thus a new show, this inebriated farce is worth a shot.
Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare: Hamlet is now playing at the Leicester Square Theatre until 14 September.