The title page from an antique book of the plays of Shakespeare

It’s a summer’s night, and the sun is beginning to set over another day of the Edinburgh Fringe.  Across the city, pints are being pulled, glasses clinked together, and drinks downed by the lot. And this is no less true for one lucky (?) cast-member of the brilliant company of Shit-faced Shakespeare, who will soon appear on stage, aglow with a little liquid courage to spice up their performance.

Having first performed in 2010, Shit-faced Shakespeare has become a mainstay of the Fringe line-up, as well as selling out to crowds in venues as big as Alexandra Palace, and the Leicester Square Theatre, even reaching the US and Australia over the last couple of years. They have taken on the greats, from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, with the objective of making Shakespeare fun.

Their method is simple: before every show, one of the actors has a few drinks. When the curtain comes up, it is the task of the audience to spot the single shit-faced cast member, and the (sober) ensemble to hold the piece together. As and when the audience suspect that the drink is beginning to wear off, there is opportunity for another round or two during the performance as well, under the supervision of a compere, who ensures the safety of cast/audience/set with aplomb. 

Setting up for a comedy of errors, the show is an irreverent, chaotic, laugh-out-loud tribute to the playwright of the people; a challenge to the notion that Shakespeare should be performed with a staid straight face, or deified as a sacrosanct pillar of Great English Literature. Armed with a pint glass, Shit-faced Shakespeare is ready to have a good night, in cahoots with its merry-making onlookers.  

The fun lies in its spontaneity, as, of course, nobody quite knows what the drunk actor is going to do: Juliet might not want to die; Bottom may prefer his donkey head; Hamlet could well decide that he’s had enough, and arrange a trip back to Wittenberg with Horatio. The charm of the show lies in its quick wit and slapstick, driving the narrative with great energy from tipsy start to finish, as well as the camaraderie quickly established between those on and off-stage. Testament to the improvisation skills of the classically-trained ensemble, and an extraordinary capacity to recite Shakespeare whilst pissed, the show never falls to bits, but pushes the original text to its boundaries, reworking and refiguring the piece on the whims of the sloshed star, to create a story never done before, and never seen again. 

An ebullient cocktail of pantomime, metatheatre, and, of course, the iconic works of the Bard himself, a sip or two of Shit-faced Shakespeare made for a brilliant night out.  We hope we’ll see many more.