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A CurtainUp London Review
Shit-Faced Shakespeare
by Malcolm Beckett
"Always enjoy Shakespeare responsibly" — from the programme
Shit-Faced Shakespeare
Louise Lee as Leonata with Hero and Claudio in the background (Photo: Rah Petherbridge)
Magnificent Bastard Productions present a new irreverent interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s best known comedies, Much Ado About Nothing. There have been several recent successes of productions originating with The Play That Goes Wrong based on a murder mystery as if performed by an amateur dramatic company, where things happen for the sake of farce. In this Much Ado, the culturally highbrow play is bought into chaos by one of the members of the cast being deliberately seriously drunk and, as might be expected, this leads to much absurdity.

The other, abstemious members of the cast carry on regardless with some of Shakespeare's original prose. If the drunken cast player starts to sober up there is a jester on hand to keep plying them with drink. Only six from a company of ten cast members take on the Much Ado main roles and a member of the audience is recruited to play Margaret the maid which adds to the fun as it is a man who has to wear a frock and be rogered by Don John.

The audience, some of whom undoubtedly had started drinking before the curtain up, joined in with the performance often shouting encouragement to all and sundry. I started thinking that this was a travesty of such a notable play but then I looked at the drawings of the Elizabethan theatre where the mass of the public stood in The Pit, drinking, eating and heckling and it seems likely to me that this is a return to what was the genuine seventeenth century experience.

What is an interesting take on the production is that a different player is chosen to be inebriated each night so what you see today will not be the same tomorrow. The night I saw it, the drunk was Beatrice (Stacey Norris) 's bedfellow Hero (Beth-Louise Priestley) who was legless. As you will remember, Hero is wooed and then exposed at the altar by Claudio (Saul Marron) after the intervention of the villainous bastard Don John (John Sebastian Trixibelle Petherbridge Mitton).

The drunkeness in this instance slants the play away from the love story of Beatrice and Benedict and becomes about Hero who, under the cover of feisty drunkeness, starts to question whether she really does want to be married to the man who has been so easily influenced to desert her. She threatens to expose Claudio on Facebook.

The costumes are colourful and the men have exaggerated cod pieces to lllustrate their man hood apart from poor dear Margaret who will struggle with her puff sleeves and headdress. Hero's father Leonato transgenders into her mother Leonata (Louise Lee) who manfully fences with Don John in a duelling finale.

May I suggest that audience members will have a more enjoyable evening if they are not stone cold sober and can join in the merriment. The rotation of the cast maintains the freshness and at 70 minutes, the evening will fly by. Against all of this is the fact that this is a one joke presentation, if sober or an aficionado this may not be for you.

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Shit-Faced Shakespeare
Adapted by Lewis Ironside
Directed by Stacy Norris
With: Stacey Norris, Rob Smythson, Beth-Louise Priestley, Victoria Fitz-Gerald, Jack Bence, Ruth Williams, Saul Marron, Louise Lee, James Murfitt, John Sebastian Trixibelle Petherbridge Mitton
Set Design: Alex Stevenson
Costume Design: Lorna Jean Costumes
Lighting Design: Davey Naylor
Choreographer: Beth-Louise Priestley
Fight Director: David Ellis
Running time: One hours 10 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7734 2222
Booking to 16th September 2017
Reviewed by Malcolm Beckett based on 13th April 2017 performance at Leicester Square Theatre, Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX (Tube: Leicester Square)
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