Magnificent Bastard Productions have returned to the Fringe with their simple but chaotic concept. Introducing the premise for newcomers, the director explains how this rapid retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth involves one performer completely off their face. The result is a laugh-a-minute parody with electric improv that somehow does not shirk the basics of the story.
Shit-Faced Shakespeare is one of those few shows where every audience member wants the same thing: they want to see the high culture of Shakespeare drowned in strong liquor, and empty tins of beer thrown at the aristocracy. They get their wish, and the result is not just the odd giggle. The entire crowd will be clutching at their chests and flailing on the floor, unable to hold back cries of laughter. The combination of rich Shakespearian text with drunken rambles of the present proves an infectious combination, and McEwan Hall consistently echoes with the sound of unbridled joy.
The set and the costumes are deliberately nothing clever or detailed. This is not a dramatic recital, but a middle finger to every toff who would lecture the common person on what is and isn’t theatre. It is parody at its least apologetic, least constrained and, of course, least sober. It has to be one of the most inventive approaches to making the work of the Bard accessible for all. It does so in that most British of ways – getting unrepentantly wasted.
Any theatre company would do well to cram the basics of Macbeth into under an hour staying on script. Doing so with an inebriated cast member causing turmoil is an utter miracle. Lady Macbeth, especially, somehow manages to avoid omitting any major part of her character arc. Littered throughout the play are some ingenious moments of improv, usually in response to the latest drunken incident. The wit and quick thinking of the cast ensure that the story moves along at a rapid pace. This also makes sure that the laughs are not too far stretched apart even in the moments where the drunk is offstage. It remains comedy gold while not forgetting the play that makes their antics possible.
The format risks varying in quality and output, but Shit-Faced Shakespeare yet again proves a guaranteed winner. There is so much joy to be had that even traditional theatre lovers cannot help but be won over. Magnificent bastards indeed.