Sh!t-faced Shakespeare: Hamlet – Leicester Square Theatre, London

Adaptation and Original Direction: Lewis Ironside

Directed by: Stacey Norris

Reviewer: Christie-Luke Jones

Sh!t-faced Shakespeare: Hamletis Magnificent Bastard Productions’ booze-fuelled and delightfully sweary take on Shakespeare’s tale of royal revenge in the Danish court. The concept is a simple one – a cast of professionally trained, Shakespearian actors rattle their way through a potted 70-minute adaptation of The Bard’s classic tragedy, all while one of their number stumbles, slurs, and generally makes a nuisance of themselves after four hours of steady drinking prior to show time.

Tonight, it’s the eponymous prince’s turn to clumsily tread the boards after spending the latter half of the afternoon ‘getting on it’. The happily sozzled David Ellis is an absolute liability from the word go, drawing raucous applause for his trigger-happy use of both the F- and the C-bomb, and for his persistent riffs on incest – even when the target of his lecherous affections is no longer of a corporeal constitution. Indeed any scene in which Prince Hamlet is interacting with the ghost of his father is a masterclass in downright silly comedy, with Ellis doing all in his power to run the narrative into the ground and his on-stage father performing out-of-this-world improvisational manoeuvres to keep things ticking along.

The sober members of the Magnificent Bastard Productions ensemble are gamely supported by compere Beth-Louise Priestley, who corrals Ellis back into position when things get a bit chaotic and light-heartedly chastises the audience whenever they encourage the Danish Prince to ‘down it’. Conversely, she also ensures that Ellis isn’t allowed to sober up too much, and draws a huge pop from the baying punters as she hastily wheels a drinks trolley on stage like a frazzled Benidorm club rep.

Surprisingly, the narrative itself remains incredibly coherent, thanks to a combination of Lewis Ironside’s clever adaptation and the undeniable pedigree of the show’s ensemble cast. A prime example of the latter is Matthew Seager’s performance as Claudius, a role in which he showcases outstanding comedic agility in the face of Ellis’ inebriated hijinks, as well as genuinely impressive Shakespearean acting chops.

As is to be expected from an adaptation in which a principal cast member has sufficiently exceeded their recommended daily intake of the hard stuff, there isn’t much genuine respite from the silly side of things. However, Natalie Boakye’s Ophelia does lend her pleasingly sweet singing voice to a refreshingly sombre scene towards the end of the narrative.

Sh!t-faced Shakespeare: Hamlet is a bawdy, quick-fire romp through Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, which remarkably, thanks to its talented cast and expertly-trimmed adapted script, never feels excessively improvised or directionless. A masterclass in controlled chaos.

Runs until: 14 September 2019 | Image: Rah Petheridge

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A masterclass in controlled chaos.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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