BWW Review: SH*T-FACED SHAKESPEARE: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Nuffield Southampton Theatres
William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream doesn't really need an introduction. It's a magical, mystical, mirthful favourite.
As with much of the Bard's work, there are a number of interconnecting plots. There are the four lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena; the relationship between Titania and Oberon, Queen and King of the fairies; Theseus and Hippolyta, the Duke of Athens and the Amazon Queen; and six amateur actors, one of which, Nick Bottom, is quite literally the butt of many a joke.
Magnificent Bastard Productions, however, have a trick up their sleeves and present this classic as you've never seen it before.
Directed and produced by Stacey Norris, produced by Saul Marron, and originally adapted and directed by Rev. Lewis Ironside, Shit-Faced Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream is a version of the play with a small cast and one very big difference; one of the actors plays their role after an eye-watering number of drinks.
Their maverick interpretation of legendary theatre has earned them much praise. The team have performed their shows to more than 400,000 audience members, won numerous awards, and sold out many a show. Their raucous reputation precedes them; they're bringing bawdy, Bardy behaviour into the twenty-first century.
While sounding like a recipe for disaster, they're very serious about their stupidity. To avoid a health and safety nightmare, they're careful to ensure the actors are all looked after: each drinker gets time off, and they rotate roles to ensure everyone gets plenty of rest (while prompting a little confusion-fuelled mayhem).
With A Midsummer Night's Dream, the audience can expect a very abridged version of the play. It's logical, really; the tiny cast, combined with so much adlibbing from their sozzled team member, would mean a full performance could take hours and hours. In this instance, we're presented with just one group from the myriad created by Shakespeare: the four lovers.
It's made very clear that this is all genuine; that the drunken cast member is indeed actually sloshed, and that each performer is a professional Shakespearean actor. It's obvious why there could be some doubt about this - it all seems a little too good to be true - but once the production unfolds, it's evidence enough.
The actors are, even with alcoholic obstacles, determined to play their roles properly, and appear to be having the time of their lives on stage.
It was Jessica Brindle's turn to get liquored up before this particular performance, as Hermia. It's hard to assess her acting skills when they're being exercised with a bottle in hand, but she is feisty, funny and dedicated to seeing the show through and perfecting some pretty complicated dance moves.
Simi Egbejumi David is excellent fun as Puck, who keeps the story running and provides some truly entertaining commentary, while also being frightfully risque. Lucy Farrar keeps us all in check as the wicked Compere, and Richard Hughes (Lysander), Louise Lee (Helena) and Saul Marron (Demetrius) are all equally excellent, messing about with words and adding an extra naughtiness to the play while sticking, as much as they can, to the script.
The unpredictable nature of trying to perform with a drunk person means that the cast never knows what will happen next, and this was dealt with very impressively. The team have very strong improvisation skills, and they continue spontaneous jokes while keeping up their Elizabethan personas. They are every inch the silliest sextet on stage.
They work hard to keep the story going, and genuine Shakesperean skills and speeches are combined with naughty jokes and physical comedy that has you shaking with laughter.
In terms of set design and music, it is not the most intricate of productions; the staging (designed by Alex Stephenson) is simple with a static set and just the occasional prop (including a well-stocked bar cart!) and modern music is reimagined on strings.
However, it works perfectly. There's no need for any distractions or intricate extras with this production, and it emulates the traditional, minimalistic staging of the original show. The focus is all on the drunken debauchery.
The costumes are also a great combination of modern and historic. Each of the four lovers is in fairly classical dress, which often makes the antics all the more entertaining. Puck and the Compere, however, sport sparkly leggings and whimsical accessories. This combination once again reflects the entire production's unification of past and present; of serious culture and serious chaos.
This production comes with a few warnings; it's not for the easily offended, or for those irked by silliness. It's not for those who want an in-depth and classic portrayal of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it's certainly not for those who take things too seriously.
This is some truly ridiculous theatre; a boozy, badly-behaved reincarnation of some of the Bard's finest work. Watching the production unfold was like seeing Shakespeare being performed by that one drunk girl we've all met on a night out.
It's loud, messy, and uncontrollable, but it's also utterly hilarious.
Photo credit: Rah Petherbridge