Much Ado About Nothing
Leicester Square Theatre, London
While this wouldn’t be the first play in the west-end to include an actor who is, frankly, a little the worse for wear, it’s surely the first time a cast member has appeared deliberately tanked-up, well, just for the hell of it. More of an adult parlour game best played in private, than a ground-breaking experiment, the premise for Shit-faced Shakespeare is a simple one. Pick a member of the cast – thankfully they are selected on rotation, which is as responsible as this show gets – get them bladdered in the dressing room, then send them out to see how many of Shakespeare’s lines they can remember in the right order.
During a too-lengthy introduction delivered by a chap at risk of being dragged off the stage by the weight of his own cod-piece, we are asked to guess which member of the cast has just drunk a tankful. I’ve been set sterner challenges in the theatre. This evening it’s clearly Claudio, although the ensuing mayhem suggests that the rest of the cast turned up at the bar not long afterwards.
For once, a familiarity with the text of the play is of absolutely no advantage whatseoever. The lines, though delivered with gusto, are not delivered in any discernable order, and much of the dialogue, which includes vulgarity that would have made even Shakepeare himself blush, is simply made up on the spot. It’s a little like eavesdropping on a drunken argument between strangers leaving a pub. You feel better simply because it doesn’t concern you.
That said, the whole farrago does exert a strange fascination and at just 70 minutes the exercise is mercifully short, although not entirely painless, and does include occasional moments of hilarity. Despite, or perhaps because of the intended drunkenness, Much Ado About Nothing, for the most part manages to both look and sound like Shakespeare, albeit after a barrel or two of sack. You half expect Barnadine to wander in from a different play and announce ‘You Rogue. I have been drinking all night and am not fitted for ‘t.’
Hats off to Stacey Norris (preferred tipple; cider from a tankard), who played a lusty, and for the most part coherent Beatrice, and Rob Smythson who managed to remain on his feet as Claudio despite consuming (we are led to believe) vast quantities of real ale served at precisely 16º. And to the theatre for keeping the bars open during the performance, the only way for the audience to get through it.