Shit-Faced Shakespeare is the epitome of what a Fringe show should be: rowdy, risqué, and reckless. Not a novice at the Fringe, the troupe of five actors performing one of Shakespeare’s great works is returning for yet another year. This time, they have chosen to recreate Hamlet…with just one small twist.
Each night, one of the five actors lives up to the name of the show – last night, Queen Gertrude of Denmark was shit-faced on stage right before our eyes.
Not only did the troupe manage the impressive feat of condensing the immense Hamlet into the space of an hour, but despite all odds they navigated the play through to its end, holding it together even as an inebriated Queen Gertrude tripped over her lines (quite literally, I might add), suggested dance battles instead of sword fights, and insisted that Ophelia and Laertes swap roles. It was evident that each and every actor knew the play like the back of their hand, giving them license to manipulate the script in all kinds of new and creative ways based on the night’s drunken antics.
Bringing the play to its expected tragic ending in spite of this is quite some triumph – that they did so while reducing the audience to a giggling heap is something else indeed. The humour was incredibly quick-witted, rarely needing to rely on juvenile jokes for cheap laughs. The cast’s interactions, and the ridiculousness of the entire situation oozed more natural comedy than you could ask for.
Nevertheless, the beauty of Shit-Faced Shakespeare was not solely in its comedy. The masterful handling of the audience’s expectations for the renowned ‘to be or not to be’ speech was remarkable. A moment that the entire audience had been waiting for, it had to deliver, it had to be breathtaking – or so we thought. Playing with this anticipation, the scene was deliberately sabotaged. As Hamlet launched into his soliloquy, the rest of the stage fell into mayhem behind him as the drunk queen toppled over a prop and the rest of cast rushed in to set up the stage for the next scene. This dashing of expectations was an excellent way to draw attention to such a poignant moment in the play in true Shit-Faced style.
Shit-Faced Shakespeare is improv as improv should be done. The unique idea gives it an edge in a market bursting with improvised theatre. The charisma of the cast members shone through their performance. Laughing with the audience as the show deteriorated into hysterical chaos, they seemed as though they were having as much fun as we were. That the play could be a pastiche of Hamlet, a tale familiar to almost every audience member, and yet simultaneously be so refreshingly novel and candid was astounding.
Shit-Faced Shakespeare: Hamlet
Underbelly, Bristo Square – McEwan Hall
Running until 27th August
Photo credit: Magnificent Bastard Productions