You know the score by now: one classically trained Shakespearean actor plus alcohol (in this case, a few lagers & half a bottle of vodka) always means Shit-faced Shakespeare! We’ve had quite a few Hamlets grace the stage over the past couple of years alone, but you won’t see another quite like this. For the Edinburgh Fringe, the team are playing at the rather sizeable McEwan Hall (one of the Underbelly Bristo Square venues) throughout the month – it’s a fairly late start, but it’s definitely worth it!
It’s been barely any time at all since Hamlet’s father died, but his mother Gertrude has already remarried – taking her brother-in-law Claudius as her new husband. Needless to say, Hamlet isn’t best pleased, and things become even more strained in Elsinore when he encounters the ghost of his father who says that he was actually murdered by his brother. This sets Hamlet on a revengeful course that engulfs the whole court in tragedy.
Well… Almost. This time round we were treated to a drunken Gertrude (Flora Sowerby), who was surprisingly quite composed early on – bar the odd bit of backchat and enthusiasm about consummating her new marriage (I agree with Hamlet, it was definitely a bad idea to put the master bedroom right next to the throne room). However, once her alcohol levels were topped up the madness could properly begin; alongside the more serious continued theme of Gertrude being repressed by the patriarchy, she also managed to coerce her son into an incestuous embrace, call Laertes a Wagon Wheel (he claimed he was going for the Viscount look), and start a trend of saying “fuck off” instead of “goodbye”. Sowerby just about managed to let Gertrude die at the end, following a bit of a chase around the stage and being physically held down by the host Beth-Louise Priestley while Horatio stabbed her. Just a regular night at Elsinore, then!
Hamlet is definitely one of the more ambitious (some would say foolhardy) plays to take on for Shit-faced Shakespeare, given that the full play can run for up to four hours – and for this they only have one hour, plus a drunk actor to contend with. It’s been remarkably well cut down by Lewis Ironside, chopping out characters & subplots (there’s no time for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern to show up, for one thing) until you have a basic story that works – and stays as comedic as possible – in under 60 minutes. But not every character can be cut, and with a small cast that means Polonius must be sourced from an unsuspecting audience! Dave Polonius was a good sport, giving Ophelia the sound advice of staying away from pigs, and gamely dying onstage when Hamlet stabbed him. The funniest & most bizarre production of Hamlet that I’ve ever seen – and another hit for the Shit-faced Shakespeare team.
My verdict? The most bizarre version of Hamlet that you’ll ever see, stripped down to its core plot and including one inebriated actor – and the drink’s the thing!
Shit-faced Shakespeare: Hamlet runs at Underbelly Bristo Square (McEwan Hall) until 27 August 2018 (10.50pm, 1 hour). Tickets are available online or from the box office.