Boozing with the Bard

Drunk Shakespeare (Meme Juice Productions)

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“Drink, sir, is a great provoker” (Macbeth Act II, Sc 3) Sandwiched as they are between the murder of King Duncan and the discovery of his body, The Porter’s drunken words about the advantages and drawbacks of alcohol represent the only comic relief in Shakespeare’s dark and tragic work “Macbeth”. Why? Because drunk people on stage were, and still are, funny. And this is the premise behind Meme Juice Production’s “Drunk Shakespeare”, which is playing (coincidentally) at the Bearded Lady bar, Stone Corner Hotel and Fox Hotel as part of this year’s Anywhere Theatre Festival.

The result is a “Romeo and Juliet” that is not quite as you know it, for each night a different cast member is drunk and becoming more sloshed as the show progresses. In this instance it is a merry Mercutio who is on the booze. And she is quiet hilarious. Yes, Mercutio is a she; for, following the Breadbeard Company’s example in last year’s “><R&J (GREATER THAN, LESS THAN ROMEO AMPERSAND JULIET)”this production relies on gender-blind casting.

After more than four centuries of preservation and re-enactment, Shakespeare’s plays have lent themselves to experimentation, adaptation and modernisation of various kinds, and even before a glass is raised, it is clear that this is an “Romeo and Juliet” unlike any other. Throughout the performance, the actors toy with the text, respond to and interact with the audience, involve audience members on stage and generally do whatever they like. And the energy is high from the outset. Indeed, this is a physical show of country ghetto dance numbers and interpretive-dance fight scenes. However, just as momentum is building, there is an intermission/bar-stop break, which unfortunately slows the pacing of what is only a short show already lacking in cohesion.

As the star of the show (on this night) Mercutio is fierce and funny in her affectionate audience interaction and frank dismissal of plot progress (“a plague on both your houses you f**ktards”). And while you may wonder why she is sometimes speaking in a Southern US accent, you certainly want to share a drink and dance like Elvis with her. With so much comic fodder from the play’s premise, the need to go for cheap laughs from a camp cowboy nurse in arseless chaps seems like an unnecessary distraction. But this is a stage full of distractions, from lemurs to lap dances and split-scene complications. It is all quite madcap, sassy and full of cheek (literary).

As a free-form experiment in the manipulation of the Bard’s work, “Drunk Shakespeare” is a show of much potential but no real depth, for in the balance between Bard and booze, it is the booze that triumphs. The actors’ improvisational skills and high energy make for an amusing night of drink, dance and drama; however, unless you are fluent in “Romeo and Juliet” you may not appreciate exactly what is going on within the chaos and shouty-ness.

You can find all of my Anywhere Theatre Festival reviews on the Festival website.

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