Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew – Leicester Square Theatre, London

Writer: Shakespeare via Magnificent Bastard Productions

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Being drunk on stage is rarely an asset, but productions have been famously derailed by inebriated actors, the trick is to make a virtue of it. The company behind the Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare series have been doing just that for the best part of a decade by deliberately sending one cast member on stage with a little too much Dutch courage. Their latest show is a compressed version of The Taming of the Shrewwhich has its UK premiere at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Unable to marry until her elder sister does, Bianca is determined to find any husband for the difficult and wilful Katherina. Desperate to marry Bianca, Hortensio convinces the newly arrived Petruchio to wed Kate and breakdown her stubborn nature. Meanwhile, the academic Lucentio has switched places with his milkmaid Trania – now disguised as her master – in order to woo Bianca, but the actor playing Trania is drunk. The audience has two opportunities to make her drink more, but will she make it through the play.

There is a growing subgenre of theatre dedicated to show’s falling apart; where once Michael Frayn’s Noises Offshowed the chaos backstage, now the ever-expanding series stemming from The Play That Goes Wrong and Sh!t-faced Shakespear ehave become comedy stalwarts. Until this 70-minute play begins, the audience has no idea which of the actors will be sh!t-faced, and once the show starts, you may spend most of the production trying to guess if they really are – is this Stanislavski’s method taking to the ultimate extreme or just an elaborate impression of drunkenness?

The answer is probably somewhere between the two, with the actor playing Trania consciously upping the ante on several occasions and relying on a set of pat gestures that recur throughout the show including some elaborate gesticulating, lots of non-Shakespearean swearing and a few deliberate stumbles. And while perhaps not quite as drunk as they pretend, everything certainly unravels more quickly as the show progresses.

But is it funny? The crude panto approach is either going to be to your taste or it’s not, and this version of The Taming of the Shrew has its moments, a few nicely ad-libbed lines, some funny walks and quick thinking from the rest of the cast to incorporate Trania’s drunken nonsense into the plot. But there are also a number of humorous incidents deliberately written into the play, including several of the scenes with Bianca and the real Lucentio getting-up to all sorts under the study table, and in the entirely unscripted interactions with audience-members dragged into the story.

Yet, the overall plot gets lost among the gibberish and after a couple of scenes the drunken antics become little more than an overstretched joke that doesn’t really go anywhere else – the promised level of chaos never really unfolding. Maybe if a more central character was drunk it might work better, seeing Bianca, Kate or Petruchio try to get through their more varied scenes could be quite amusing. Watching actors drunk on stage only works if there’s a sense of jeopardy, that the whole thing might collapse any second which is largely missing here, although if the audience were all drunk as well, they might be in on the joke.

Runs until: 2 June 2019 | Image: Contributed

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