Shit-Faced Showtime is brought to the Fringe by Magnificent Bastards Productions, the company behind Shit-Faced Shakespeare. The five musically-trained actors perform Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance… and one of them is very drunk. The musical is performed as a (relatively) serious piece, with the humour derived from whatever madness the drunken actor descends to, and how the rest of the cast cope.
All of the songs are well-presented and the cast is highly talented, even when three sheets to the wind. The show is well-staged and obviously well-rehearsed – and it’s this high level of professionalism that makes it all so funny. It simply wouldn’t work if it descended into anarchy.
The cast rotate which actor is going to be drunk, and at the performance I attended the chosen one was Issy Wroe Wright, who was screamingly funny. During the opening number it became apparent that there was a technical issue, leading to the confession that she had had an accident with her microphone. For the next ten minutes or so she kept being forcibly yanked off the stage by a technician trying to sort this out, much to the amusement of the rest of the cast and the audience.
The performance is watched over by a master or mistress of the ceremonies, responsible for ensuring that the drunk does no harm to themselves or others. At one point there was a sword duel, and the sword was immediately taken off Wroe Wright to be replaced with a pool noodle; the wisdom behind this was made readily apparent when she promptly started whacking the cast and audience members with it. Equally importantly, the emcee makes sure that the actor doesn’t sober up. To help with this task a xylophone and a recorder are given to two audience members, who may play them once per show to propose another drink.
Whilst The Pirates of Penzance is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operettas, I do wonder how widely it is known to a general audience. The story is necessarily halted and disturbed by the drunken actor – this is the premise of the whole show – and if you don’t already know the work, it could be very hard to follow what is going on. A revue or cabaret might have been a better choice, as the audience wouldn’t need to worry about a plot and could instead glory in the drunken antics.
However, it must be said the audience when I attended were laughing the whole way through. So if you want to see a serious performance of The Pirates of Penzance, then this is not the show for you; but if you want to see just how a musical can be derailed with the liberal application of alcohol, it’s absolutely brilliant.