Shit-Faced Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Leicester Square Theatre)

Magnificent Bastard Productions’ irreverent take on Shakespeare arrives in London

Beth-Louise Priestley, Stacey Norris, Jack Bence and Louise Lee
Beth-Louise Priestley, Stacey Norris, Jack Bence and Louise Lee
© Rah Petherbridge Photography

If all the Bardolatry of recent weeks has left you hankering for a less reverential take on the Shake, this should slake your thirst. Shit-Faced Shakespeare sees a cast of five performing a bawdy, abbreviated version of a play, only one of them is absolutely hammered. Totally wasted. Reeling ripe (to use Shakespeare's own term).

Tonight, it's Lysander who's legless; their A Midsummer Night's Dream basically just stages the lovers' plot, relegating the Rude Mechanicals to an audience member in a donkey-eared hat.
Shit-Faced Shakespeare has become something of a cult favourite, a successful Edinburgh gimmick leading to international shows and a run in central London; they estimate that – gulp – 20,000 units of alcohol have been consumed for it in the last six years. Don't worry, there are nine in the company, with rotation allowing livers to recover.

The Leicester Square Theatre may not be the best venue for it, however; deliberately low-budget with flimsy sets, I suspect late-night chaotic intimacy would work better. They could certainly do with ditching the mics; not only is the sound bad, but barrelling around blotto means they tend to go askew.

Still, this bouncing troupe are clearly having a ball, and their enthusiasm passes to the audience; we're actively brought on side from the start by a glittery-trousered compere who gives out a gong and horn, to be sounded should the pissed actor begin to look dangerously sober…

There's little risk of that – Saul Marron's consumed two Stellas, half a bottle of vodka and a can of Archers Woo Woo before the show. But there's surely a lot of artistic license taken with the licentiousness here: some ad-libs, script-swerves and stage fights feel well-rehearsed and there's little sense of real anarchy. Such stageyness can be an unpleasant reminder of teenage parties when people still thought being wazzocked was the funniest thing ever, and acted up accordingly.

But if some of the self-amused, 'tee-hee, I'm tipsy' stuff grates, at other moments Marron is genuinely snort-inducingly daft, with the straight-faced cast around him adept at picking up funny ad-libs and running with them. Some of his slurringly transformed lines and sloshed slapstick certainly cut it as (half-cut) comedy, with Marron so wholly going for it that he ended up with grazed kneecaps. Drawing blood and drinking Archers: now that's commitment to your art!

Shit-Faced Shakespeare exhibits a very British sense of humour: they focus on the naughty bits, draining every drop of innuendo from Shakespeare's overflowing cup. It's all done with much gusto and affection, and Shakespeare can certainly take the treatment. For while this may be an extremely bawdy, ribald Dream – I've never seen the magic flower juice being ejaculated from a groin into faces with the line "pollination!" before – much of the saucy stuff comes straight from the text.

By now, you've probably got a pretty good idea of whether this show is for you or not. But then, you probably got that just from the title… If their brand of humour fails to intoxicate you, it'll be about as fun as being stuck on a night bus with a plastered thespian practicing an audition speech. But for Shakespeare nerds and improv fans who've spent an hour in the pub beforehand: it'll work an absolute charm.

Shit-Faced Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night's Dream is at the Leicester Square theatre until 11 June.