Cavorting around the Edinburgh Fringe since 2012, the ever popular Shit-Faced Shakespeare is back to inflict its legless antics on willing audiences. For those who haven’t heard of this, it does what the title says: the cast valiantly attempt to act out some of the greatest plays ever written, in spite of one them being totally out of it. This year it’s the turn of the Bard’s lesser-known Two Gentleman of Verona, although it’s safe say the plot is almost incidental.
In each performance a different member of the cast is the designated bacchanalian; on the night I attended it was the character of Valentine, who looked like Russell Brand and Albrecht Durer’s love child. Radiating an air that can only be described as louche, e-cigarette in hand, he made an excellent and surprisingly witty drunk. Improvised lines such as the primly uttered “I’m not feeling quite myself this evening” were genuinely very entertaining, and although he clearly couldn’t remember his lines and/or the plot, he had a good stab at making up 16th century blank verse.
I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Valentine and the genuinely well-acted Duke of Milan, a pompous figure who disapproves of Valentine’s love for his daughter Sylvia. Meanwhile, the hysterical Julia cross-dresses to go and spy on her lover Proteus, who decides he too wants Sylvia instead. There’s some great audience participation too – some of it clearly planned, some of it definitely not. The show’s regular features include a bugle and a gong that can each be sounded if their custodians think the actor is getting too sober.
One of the dangers of using a less popular Shakespeare play is that it was sometimes hard to fill in gaps in the plot, particularly when the other actors were focused on stopping Valentine from making a lunge for the remaining booze. Some characters were very overacted and this made them more annoying than funny, detracting from the actual comedy of the words themselves. At times it felt like a generally mediocre Shakespeare production saved by a drunk person.
So, it’s inane and irreverent; it won’t leave you pondering the human condition, but it is very funny in places and makes a good start to a night out. Obviously this isn’t pre-watershed viewing, and it was fairly consistently potty mouthed – Valentine even did a well-timed and much-applauded burp in Lucetta’s face. If you’re the type of person who thinks you’ll enjoy it, I’m sure it won’t disappoint you. Otherwise, go and watch some Chekov.