Many an English student would tell you that reading Shakespeare can drive them to drink.
For Shit-faced Shakespeare, that is just fine! In fact, the English company (that is coming to Davis Square Theatre in Somerville from April 10-May 2) encourages drinking, even (and especially) amongst its members.
During each 60-minute production of that night’s Shakespearean drama, a different member of the cast is picked by the audience to be put in the proverbial “hot seat” and directed to drink at various (and frequent) times throughout the production.
“We actually perform entire plays (or redacted sections thereof) as opposed to individual scenes,” explains co-founder Rev. Lewis Ironside of Magnificent Bastard Productions, noting that the Somervile set will feature “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which, Ironside notes, dates from “slap bang in the middle of Shakespeare’s ‘Golden Period’” of1592 – 1603. “It contains all the classical elements which we find have best served the format of our production through years of experimentation,” Ironside observes.
Among earlier efforts were productions of “King Lear” (in which four Fools shared the saucing scenarios) and a “relatively svelt” yet fully inebriated take on “Timon of Athens” and a “tipsy” hour-long run through “Titus Andronicus,” in which Titus himself and Lavinia drunk simultaneously.
“The name writing scene (Act IV Sc 1) was such a instant, and unexpected, comedic hit with our audience,” Ironside recalls, “that we decided to move forward purely with 60-minute comedies.”
Once the format was set, the SFS team ha regaled thousands of fans with 60-minute sessions of “Romeo And Juliet,” “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” among others. By keeping the shows down to roughly an hour, the company is able to encourage Shakespeare-phobes to partake and allow all the audience and the cast – which includes members of the Kingdom’s National Theatre, Globe Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and even the Reduced Shakespeare Company – more time to drink and then recover.
Speaking of recovery, a good deal of the SFS efforts and proceeds are put towards causes that help the many people for whom drinking is not such a choice.
“I grew up in a home environment surrounded by those who enjoyed a great love of fine Scottish whisky,” Ironside recalls, “and thus gained an appreciation for the noble arts of imbibement.” In addition to developing a keen palate, his brown liquid boyhood also led Ironside to understand the darker side of drinking.”It has provided me with both a ready stream of fondly re-called anecdotes,” he says, “but also left me deeply aware of the problems and social stresses that alcohol can place individuals, families and communities under.” As such, he explains, his company’s cast members constantly assessed by a trained therapist and the company has traditionally donated a good deal of their annual profits to such programs as UK Change4Life. Ironside adds that he also donates an even larger portion of his own benefits to the Walter McGregor Support Trust which helps families in his hometown deal with both alcoholism and domestic violence. Furthermore, in order to assure potential players and guests that they will be safely sauced, the show is “fully covered” by comprehensive Public Liability Insurance and “the appropriate Employers Insurance,” Ironside notes.
“Magnificent Bastard Productions values the welfare of it’s audiences and staff above all other concerns,” Ironside assures, “and all possible steps are taken to mitigate against any possible problem or incident.”
All seriousness and community service aside, the shows are, in the end, about fun!
“We encourage our audience to ‘Enjoy Shakespeare responsibly,’” Ironside explains, noting that, whle only the chosen cast members are required to drink, audience participation is accepted, if not encouraged. “We do allow drinking within the theatre and have no problem with our audiences contributing to an authentic Elizabethan atmosphere or raucous groundlings and cacophonous nobles!.” After all, Ironside reasons, “If it was acceptable behaviour [sic] for the King’s Men to play before then why should we consider ourselves any different?”
As Somerville is in Puritanical Massachusetts, however, Ironside is eager to add this additional caveat: “Behaviour [sic] which contravenes the venue’s expected standards of conduct may result in exclusion from the premisses [sic], although we as a production would never precipitate such action.”
In an effort to raise the merriment while mitigating the BAL, the company will also provide food during the productions. Among the tasty treats that are scheduled to appear on the bill are spicy popcorn shrimp, feta-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates (aka, “Devils on Horseback”), wings, and Poutine (the Royal combination of fries, curd and gravy that have gotten many a drunkard through the night), as well as pizzettas with roasted mushrooms, pepperoni, or BBQ pork, roasted Portobello mushroom sandwiches and patty melts with butcher-cut homemade bacon. There are even plans for a special Shit-faced cocktail for those for whom the regular raft of drafts is not sufficient.
While it may still have “blue laws” on the books and so not so favorable to all-day drinkers, Boston is also a fine place for theatre and culture and therefore a great first stop for these Brits (better, even, than it was for their ancient ancestors).
“Boston is such a natural home for classical theatre,” Ironside expounds, “and is well known in the UK for the great dynasties of theatre producers who have hailed from Boston and worked there.”
He also notes that just as London’s West End has born many Stateside smashes, Boston has long been the birthplace for pond-crossing productions.
“Long before the monopolization of Broadway took hold,” he recalls, “many of the most important works…were premièred in Boston.”
As eager as Ironside and his mates are to come here, if the history of FS is any indication, hundreds of locals will throng to Davis Square to enjoy night after night of shows, hoping to land different actors in the hot seat and to try new combinations of story and sauce.
If alcohol be the food of wit, drink on!
Tix: $20. http://www.eventbrite.com/e/shit-faced-shakespeare-tickets-15866483078 Most shows start at 7:30, but check website below.
– Matt Robinson
255 Elm St., Somerville, 617-864-5335 www.shit-facedshakespeare.com