It’s always a danger to go into a show with Very High Expectations but unfortunately with a show and brand like Shitfaced Shakespeare, it’s unavoidable. The Magnificent Bastards have spent the past eight years building up a reputation as bawdy, raucous Shakespearean anarchists and their current London season has a weight of expectation to live up to.
It’s a simple – and indeed genius – idea: five classically trained Shakespearean actors put on a reduced but still funny and more or less coherent version of ‘The Merchant of Venice’. So far so standard. The brilliant twist is that one of those actors is drunk and can be relied upon to ensure that nothing goes according to plan. Two audience members have gongs and trumpets to play whenever they feel that the actor needs more alcohol; another has a sick bucket.
The actors rotate parts and drunkenness and the evening is compered by a host (Saul Marron, enormously likeable and wearing glittery leggings on this occasion) who is on hand to ensure that things don’t stray too far from the vague idea of ‘the Merchant of Venice’. Having said that, even he was powerless to stop Jessica (a highly intoxicated Louise Lee) having visions from Agamemnon, accusing her fiancee of murder, and running gleefully around the auditorium.
It is chaotic and unpredictable and there can be moments of genuine hilarity. However there were also moments of doubt, for while the programme is keen to clarify that ‘everything you see tonight is 100% real’, some of the drunken madness did have the feel of something more practised than genuine drunken anarchy. There were also many moments in which Lee was offstage, and the show just became a potted version of ‘the Merchant of Venice’.
Perhaps the show will run and run. Perhaps it is becoming just a touch tired, after 8 years of performing to over 200,000 people so far, and has lost a little sharpness along the way. Either way, though, I’ll drink to what is a fantastic idea and a funny show.