Second Opinion: Hamlet by Shit-Faced Shakespeare, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 ★☆☆☆☆

Let’s be honest here – it’s time for Shit-Faced to buck their ideas up. I know Mike already covered this one delightfully well here but I feel entitled enough to share my own opinion. For this publication, Shit-Faced Shakespeare should be the pinnacle of achievement. I mean, it’s bloody popular enough to be – selling out almost all of their Fringe runs for the past five years and doing tours as far as the States. Plus, it centres around drinking, which is something we very much specialise in.

The concept is simple. A group of classically trained actors put on a performance of a Shakespeare play, but one of them has drank copious amounts of alcohol before the show and through the deployment of several handy props to the audience, they will continue to drink throughout it. It’s up to the rest of the cast to carry them through it. Hilarious, simple concept.

Before I begin this rant, I just want to make one thing very adamant. I thoroughly enjoyed last year’s Shit-Faced offering of Romeo and Juliet. It was fantastic. I went on an evening in which it was poor Romeo’s turn to be the drunkard and the whole play was an unwavering, hysterical farce.

But here’s where the whole thing comes unravelled – it doesn’t work when it’s not a main character drinking. In my attendance of this year’s show, Hamlet, featured Claudius as the poor soul consigned to debauchery. The only issue is that Claudius is barely in it. And then, when you strip back that element of it all, it started to dawn on me that this was actually a very bland adaptation of one of the bard’s most epic tragic tales.

There is very little style or theme presented. In fact, adaptation is a strong word to use. There’s nothing wrong with presenting a Shakespeare play in it’s pure, unbridled, Elizabethan glory – but there is pride in creating a production with some verve or unique take. The acting is on the whole uninspired and in the performance we sat through, they fucked it up in a massive way – seemingly unable to control Claudius to the point where half the play was cut out. It was like watching the £14.50 I spent on a ticket fall down a drain pipe.

Not only this, but whoever at Magnificent Bastard Productions thought it was a good idea to hire McEwan Hall of all places as a venue for this show, has clearly never stepped foot in McEwan Hall. The kind of informal atmosphere that a concept like this requires to be successfully pulled off simply cannot be created in such a vast, extravagant venue. Last year it was in the Udderbelly Cow, which gave it so much more of a down to earth, festival vibe. It relaxed the audience and the actors too.

The set, constructed from a few large dual-coloured banners dangling from the ceiling, feels at best uninspired and at worst reminiscent of a school play. Not to mention the obnoxious and pretentious Dubstep remixes being played as the audience enters. I realise that makes me sound about 55, but I am actually well within the generation which created Dubstep and I still found it unnecessary and predictable.

But alas, I won’t be non-constructive. There is a very simple fix to Hamlet’s issues – only have the main characters get drunk. And by that I mean the one that everyone comes to see – Hamlet! If I had turned up to Romeo and Juliet the year before and it was Lord Capulet’s turn to be drunk, I would’ve wondered if there was a better way to spend a Thursday evening. Now I’m not saying that the same actor should be getting drunk every night, but you could very easily rotate a group of actors to play Hamlet, and solve just about every issue I’ve spoken about so far in this piece.

The lack of style would go unnoticed due to the emphasis on the primary concept. The Dubstep could be at most forgiven and the set would just be a way to add context to the comedy. When it’s not a main characters turn, the whole idea turns into a mess. And also, book a venue that suits the show next year. Maybe that would turn Hamlet into a four star show for me.

Hamlet ran at the McEwan Hall at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from the 2nd-26th August. You will most likely be able to catch them at the Brighton Fringe next year.

Editor. Craft beer fiend. Scriptwriter. Amateur theatre reviewer.