What Shit-faced Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew company lack in truthful performances, they make up for in improvisation, comedic timing and raucous fun.
One should expect any Shit-faced Shakespeare production to be opened by a host who doesn’t partake in the acting – instead, spurring the audience and handling the night’s intoxicated actor. Both tasks are deftly handled by our rowdy, yet firm MC, who bestows one Leicester Square Theatre audience member with a gong and another with a horn. These can be played at any moment of the recipient’s choosing, and the drunken actor will be handed another drink.
Before this Taming of the Shrew commences, our night’s actor will have consumed ⅔ of a bottle of gin. The host does an admirable job at building anticipation within the audience, and even designates another seated member with the job of ‘manning the bucket’ because sitting on the front row of the Leicester Square Theatre places him in the midst of the ‘vom zone’.
The Shit-faced Shakespeare company have a strong understanding of the bawdy aspects of the Bard’s writing, and play up the tongue-in-cheek humour with gusto. They even manage to select suggestive stage decorations and harness Shakespeare’s knack for sauciness in some of their costuming. Transitions are even marked with “classical” instrumental versions of well-known pop songs, such as Madonna’s Like A Virgin and Gaga’s Bad Romance. Keen listeners in the audience will note these often accentuate the motifs established in the prior scene.
Whilst it’s wonderful to see the silliness of Shakespeare embraced so wholeheartedly, at times the acting borders on pantomime. The performances that shine most bright manage to add at least a little weight to their irreverence by varying their character’s emotional journey. One such character who has a clear journey is Tranio, who (whilst playing up the innuendos when disguised as her master) still manages to portray her internal conflict.
My night’s drunken actor plays Petruchio, who attempts to tame the headstrong Katherina into a subservient wife. In Shakespeare’s original vision of the play, Petruchio adopts numerous methods such as starvation and psychological warfare but our drunken suitor – on a whim – inverts these efforts. Early on, he discovers he has a knack for walking backwards and before long, the company respond to this discovery by incorporating it into the rest of the play. At one point, he halts his scene to quip that he feels that men and women should be equal. In fact, throughout his parts, he provides numerous asides that give us small insights into the rehearsal process and feeling on the performance.
The company does well to improvise around our drunken Petruchio, whilst retaining the language one would expect from Shakespeare. There are the odd moments where lines are overlapped, or lost in shouting but all in all, it’s absolute fun to see how the group puts out the fires – or rather cleans up the beer spills – that our Petruchio creates. In his defence, it’s not entirely his fault…our host pours some bad pints for our plastered Petruchio.
Shit-faced Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew is not the height of classical performance, but it doesn’t need to be and of course that isn’t the point here. It may border on the over-hammed at times – but it’s pure campy fun. If Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed in the seedy taverns of the red light district, then it’s safe to assume that the atmosphere at the Leicester Square Theatre honours that. Bard’s play is better with a boisterous audience, and a ‘boisterous’ audience is something this company knows how to whip up.