The premise is pretty simple. The company have rehearsed a tight, abridged version of Much Ado. But one of the six actors on the night (they rotate for the sake of their livers) is plastered. Tonight it's the turn of James Murfitt as Claudio, and by seven o'clock, he's necked two lagers and two-thirds of a bottle of gin. Before the show, two audience members are each given a bugle and a gong to signal he needs another beer in case he's sobering up. A third is given a bucket.
Murfitt stumbles onto the stage, covered in a flimsy set decorated with troll face gargoyles, and manages to mumble through some lines, but for the most part, he has the giggles. A drunkard on stage does lead to some real laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Claudio and Benedick agree to start an Italian magic duo "Penne and Taglia-Teller". Some of these moments feel like genuine off-the-cuff improv, others feel a bit contrived. The product of countless "wouldn't it be funny if" conversations.
They zip through the story, with certain scenes planted solely to exploit the inebriation of different characters throughout the run. I'm sure they're enjoyable when those particular actors are merry, but we're all there to see some drunk acting. Part of what makes this show so great is that no two nights will be the same. You can bet your bottom dollar that there's been no version of Much Ado in which Claudio storms away from his wedding with Hero to comfort himself with a (I'll paraphrase) 'big self-love session'.
There are a few irks during the night. The piece is set to a rather random soundtrack of modern string arrangements - the likes of Lady Gaga, Black Sabbath and Muse - which often drown out the actors. And I can't help but feel seven o'clock is too early for this kind of show. It's a bit like awkwardly watching your friend who got a little too tipsy a little too quickly while you're stone-cold sober.
The show's best moments come from Murfitt's more natural drunken moments. After he's leaned in to kiss Hero, you hear him warbling "I'm so sorry" to actress Beth-Louise Priestley at the back of the stage. The supporting cast do a great job of riffing off the slurred ad-lib, and it makes you wonder how the other actors will change the course of each performance.
There's no moral to the story here, nor is it a particularly noble tribute to the Bard, but it is a group of friends having fun with their p*ssed up mate. And fun is exactly what it is.