- The Goldsmiths Drama Society’s production of Mortal Macbeth certainly revealed that we have some genuine acting talent amongst our midst. But, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff asks, was the fact that the actors were getting shitfaced on stage too much of a gimmick?
‘Shitfaced Shakespeare’ reportedly began in 2010, when the Tax Deductible Theatre Company came up with the novel idea to stage a short production of a Shakespeare play with one member inebriated, or ‘shitfaced’. Mired in controversy after its first staging ended with a drink-induced hospitalisation, at first look a ‘Shitfaced’ inspired play would seem the perfect addition to the Goldsmiths Drama Society’s typically ‘Goldsmiths-esque’ cutting-edge reputation. Having gained in popularity after a smash at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, especially among student circles (the Cambridge Drama Society staged Hammered Hamlet last June), Goldsmiths Drama Society took the Shitfaced idea to a whole new level in their most recent production.
Instead of limiting the drinking to one or two cast members, in their production of Mortal Macbeth, half of the fourteen-strong cast were given ‘unlimited drinks bands’. Additionally there was a pre-show cast party, the suggestion put forward by the directors to buy drinks for cast members during the 20-minute interval, and a round of shots for all to signal the second half of the play. This meant that practically all cast members were at some level of drunkenness from the very beginning of the production, and by the end they were completely trashed.
Despite their drunkenness, some performances did stand out, and the actors did, just about, make it to the end of the play. With some beautiful comic timing, Macbeth (Sam Bossman) played a fantastically exasperated straight man to his fellow cast members, and before her drunken demise Lady Macbeth (Josie Underwood) seemed a relatively strong, articulate lead. Macduff (Felix Fletcher-Gilhuys) reminded me of a young Don Warrington (mainly because of a similarity in tone), and despite being obviously very drunk from his first moment on stage, was gruffly captivating. The three witches (Evangeline Beaven, Leah Gaffey and Vivien ten Have) on the other hand could obviously act, but were a bit too drunk. Their camaraderie was initially amusing, but became marred by the effects of alcohol.
Perhaps for added enjoyment, another element of Shitfaced Shakespeare should be to make it compulsory for the audience to get drunk too, but the problem here actually stemmed from the subversion of the original idea. Too many of the cast members were ‘mortal’, and by the end my patience was wearing thin with the unintelligible verses and barely grasped soliloquies – even though I did manage to have a good giggle. Shakespeare is difficult enough to understand without interjections of Destiny’s Child and unnecessary expletives. If it hadn’t been for the redeeming soberness of a couple of the actors then what was already a chaotic production would have been a bit of a shambles.
Of course, the majority of the audience members were friends and family of the cast, so there was a lot of infectious laughter and applause. The audience were quite involved (if only by being told to ‘fuck off’ a few times in good humour by Lady Macbeth), and it was a pleasant atmosphere. But there’s only so much you can laugh at drunk people, and eventually I became rather jealous, as the cast members seemed to be having a better time on stage than I was in the audience.
Unfortunately, although there were some golden comedic moments, the production ultimately came across as quite gimmicky in parts – amplified by the obvious effects of drink. The majority of cast members were unable to remember their lines, and were falling out of character with too much frequency. It effectively came down to which cast members were naturally funny drunks; those who retained their comic timing while pissed and did not just descend into poor, slapstick humour.
But instead of rambling on, I’ll mimick Mortal Macbeth, miss a soliloquoy or two and ‘skip to the end’. The production was good fun, and it achieved its purpose in entertainment value in places – but it was just a little too ‘shitfaced’. Definitely an easy gimmick rather than an original idea from the Goldsmiths Drama Society.