I’ve seen multiple stage and screen versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but I’m not sure I remember them ever being quite this… sweary. I’m also pretty certain that the original version doesn’t include Tybalt threatening to fuck Mercutio to death.
The premise of Shit-Faced Shakespeare is pretty much as simple as it gets. It’s Shakespeare, but one member of the five person cast is utterly shit-faced. Sozzled. Inebriated. Pissed. Drunk. In fact, our particular Tybalt/Lord Capulet (played by Christopher Lane on this occasion) had consumed around 6 pints of beer and a fair quantity of gin by the time they took their final bow.
The production features a rolling cast, with actors performing different parts each night. Currently this includes: Louise Lee (Nurse/Benvolia); Stacey Norris (Nurse/Benvolia); Lucy Farrar, Jessica Brindle (Juliet); Richard Hughes (Romeo); David Ellis (Romeo/Mercutio/Friar); Christopher Lane (Mercutio/Friar/Lord Capulet/Tybalt); and John Mitton (Lord Capulet/Tybalt).
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The show begins with the Emcee introducing themselves to the audience. Their job is to not only make sure the audience is primed and ready for the mayhem that follows, they also get folks directly involved by providing a lucky few with a musical instrument to use. When employed (once and only once), these instruments are a signal for our already unsteady actor to be served another drink live on stage to ensure they’re not given a chance to sober up!
The Emcee’s other role during the production is to ensure that things don’t get too rowdy, and that nobody is in any real danger of coming a cropper during the drunken shenanigans. There’s a fair bit of rolling about on the floor and more than one dance number, so there’s always the potential for someone to take a nosedive into the front row if they’re not paying attention.
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While these drunken shenanigans are going on, the rest of the cast do their best to perform an abridged version of the play (cramming it into a mere 60 minutes plus intermission), while the arguable star of the show appears to do his level best to sabotage it. The Emcee needed to step in and suggest on multiple occasions that perhaps “He’d like to do a little bit of Shakespeare” rather than going off on tangents involving Granny Smith apples, heckling the audience and occasionally stopping to drink even more booze.
It’s an impressive display of improvisation and talent from all involved, with the rest of the cast doing their best to keep the story moving along. They need to be able to react on the fly to the curveballs thrown at them by their less than sober member, especially when, for example, Lord Capulet decides that the seemingly dead Juliet should be cremated rather than placed in the crypt. Cue the introduction of a jar of Nescafe to serve as poor Juliet’s “ashes” and much wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth on stage.
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There was also the running gag about apples, a bit about council licences, repeated sword fights involving a foam trident, a member of the audience stepping on Tybalt’s punchlines, and enough innuendo to make George Takei blurt out “Oh my” every few seconds. In short, it was utterly glorious.
This production of Romeo and Juliet is running until the 10th of September 2022 at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. If you’re any sort of fan of farce, if you enjoy shows like The Play That Goes Wrong, then this should absolutely be something you check out. Shit-Faced Shakespeare is hilariously funny, and if you can’t make this run, or you’re more a fan of the moody Scottish Play than teenagers in love, then they’re also performing Macbeth at various venues around the country from August through to November.
Romeo and Juliet is on at at the Leicester Square Theatre until 10th September.