Shit-Faced Shakespeare collaborator David Ellis tells us about current show ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Leicester Square Theatre this summer.
Tell us a bit about the premise of Sh!t-faced Shakespeare?
It’s pretty much exactly as it says on the tin. We take one Shakespeare play, we rigorously rehearse said play with a team of brilliant actors and on every night we perform, one of our team gets drunk. We start our chosen actor drinking four hours before the show starts and once the curtain goes up they have permission to cause as much chaos as possible. The sober actors have to work to keep the show moving and incorporate the drunk actor’s antics into the story, all the time improvising in Shakespearean vernacular and rhyming couplets.
How do you decide which character gets to be Sh!t-faced?
In some of our shows, some characters have more stage time than others so it makes sense for those to be the ones that drink. However, in Romeo and Juliet, it could be any of the characters that are drunk on any given night. And for those of you getting panicked and thinking “Wait a minute … Mercutio dies halfway through the play …” fear not, the same actor also plays our Friar Lawrence.
Why do you think people should come along to the show?
After the two years we’ve just had everyone should come and see this show. It’s nothing but pure joy and pure escapism. Live theatre has the power to do lots of things. To tell incredible stories, to move people … this show is pure entertainment from start to finish and we love the fact that we see ourselves as a “gateway drug” for people watching more Shakespeare and theatre in general.
The show has performed in The US and UK. Do British audiences react differently to American audiences?
We’ve performed in the UK, US and Australia we’ll have you know. All audiences are different and there’s definitely a noticeable change between a 7pm show in London’s West End to a 11pm at the Edinburgh Fringe. American and Aussie audiences generally tend to get more of a kick out of the fact there are some British actors performing Shakespeare … whereas over here, unsurprisingly, we’re spoilt for choice. Honestly, London audiences can sometimes be the most discerning but it just makes winning them over all the more sweet.
Do most audiences know what they’ve booked, or has anyone ever been shocked to find a drunk character on stage?
We do wonder sometimes … We’ve had some children in the audience on a few occasions and a few of those times the drunk actor has directly addressed the parents and said “You did know what this show was right?” We even had a lad of about seven jump on stage to be our Polonius in Hamlet. Irresponsible parents or absolute legends … we’ll leave it to you to be the judge.
Who’s the most outrageous drunk out of all the cast?
That entirely depends on your idea of “outrageous”. Is repeated bum flashing outrageous? Is setting off fire extinguishers outrageous? Climbing on audience members? Spilling your castmates’ deepest darkest secrets? Or just being incredibly sassy from start to finish?
Is Shakespeare the only plays you do or are there plans to branch out to any others totally Sh!t-faced?
We have our sister show Shit-faced Showtime which has a Christmas Show, a version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. There are no plans as yet for a Pissed Pinter, inebriated Ibson, Mashed Miller or even a Cheech and Chong version of Chekov.
What is the most rewarding thing about your work?
We get to travel the world with our best mates, perform Shakespeare and occasionally get very drunk. It’s one of the best jobs ever. The fact that I get to do this for a living, I still find mind blowing.
Who are your influences and inspirations?
Ah everyone in the cast will, I’m sure, have a different answer to this. Comedy has always been my thing. When I was younger I used to repeatedly watch a VHS of Laurel & Hardy. I also listened to lots of radio comedy and loved all the silly voices. I’m also a performer and lover of stand-up comedy and people like Josie Long and Stuart Lee are two of my big heroes.
Is there a role you would love to play in a show?
A dream role for me has always been Hamlet and thanks to this show I’ve been able to perform that role in front of thousands of people all over the world. If anyone ever asks me if I have a party trick I say “Yes, drink half a bottle of tequila and recite “To Be or Not To Be …” word perfect”.
Where can people follow your work on socials?
For Tickets visit www.shitfacedshakespeare.com.