Saturday, 30 March 2019

REVIEW: Sh*t-Faced Showtime: Oliver With A Twist - Leicester Square Theatre, London.

The company behind the intriguingly titled show: Sh*t-faced Shakespeare’ describe themselves as “the deeply highbrow fusion of an entirely serious play with an entirely sh*t-faced cast member...outrageously raucous and completely unpredictable”. Since forming in 2010 they seem to be conquering swathes of the English speaking theatre-going world with their entirely niche and quite literally intoxicating mix of raucous, interactive (often Elizabethan) theatre complete with an entirely sh*t-faced cast member. “What could possibly go right?” we are asked.

And whilst performing such Bard classics as Macbeth. Hamlet and The Taming Of The Shrew this year alone, tonight’s show was an opportunity to see them branch out into Victorian England with the similarly titled ‘Sh*t-Faced Showtime: Oliver With A Twist’. Having been tempted but not quite enticed into the sh*t-faced world on my recent annual visits to the Edinburgh Festival, a few thoughts popped into my mind: Never mind the drunken cast member ….is the performance itself going to be enough to hold our attention for an hour? (It’s a Friday night so surely a visit to any local Soho pub could have the same impact?) Do I need to knock back a few en route to get into the spirit of the thing? And vitally - isn’t this really history repeating itself? As by all accounts the legendary boozer Oliver Reed was pretty sh*t-faced himself on the set of the original musical classic.

With a rotating cast the sh*t-faced crew get one of their members inebriated before each show - 4 hours of slowly getting drunk prior to ‘curtain up’. Being introduced by a vibrant MC with a bit of an accent a la East End (this is a night of Dickens after all) the expectant audience - clearly dying to know exactly what has been consumed - were given the precise information of: one small can of pale ale and half a (rather smallish) bottle of ‘posh’ gin. At which point there was a distinct air of mild disappointment. A small can of light ail plus a few gins over several hours??? To these discerning serious-drinkers that wasn’t really enough to sink a miniature rubber duck!

We were then treated to an hour of - well actually, pure entertainment - with 6 highly talented actors, some slick choreography, powerful singing and a fast moving, often hilarious script. Following largely the Oliver Twist storyline with the interweaving of not only original songs (albeit with a few witty up-to-date revisions) but also well-known numbers from other shows - including a wonderful albeit random rendition of ‘Singing In The Rain’ - this was non-stop high-energy, highly engaging entertainment. As for the inebriated actor - well she (compared to the rest of us) was clearly a bit of a lightweight in the booze department as well as, we were told, being a strict vegan, which added to the various endearing cock-ups and off-script behaviour. And of course this is a show where NO NIGHT is the same, so it was impressive to see a plethora of off-beat improvisation skills from the rest of the cast in the attempt to deal with any wayward behaviour.

For me this was a show that worked. Not least because like everyone who enjoys anything off-beat or immersive, the unexpected is part of the fun, especially with a unique format like this one. As a piece of pure entertainment to slot into your evening, this has it in spades. It is Popular Theatre at its best: Music Hall for the 21st century. In a city that houses more often over-priced ‘serious’ theatre than anywhere in the world, we need the beacon of the Leicester Square Theatre and companies like Sh*t-face to give us something more accessible and affordable. The venue’s programme does indeed read like an all-year-round Edinburgh. And for anyone who is yet to experience Bill Sykes entering stage right with his enduring companion Bullseye ON WHEELS (much funnier than it sounds) I can only say …”Please sir - can we have some MORE?”

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
on - 29/3/19

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