“The sober actors essentially do the same job as a Shakespearean improv troupe, except they have a shark in the tank with them”: Stacey Norris on Sh!t-faced Shakespeare
Stacey Norris acts in, directs and produces shows with irreverent theatre company Sh!t-faced Shakespeare, a tight-knit group of skilled classical actors who bring a debaucherous take on some of the Bard’s best-known plays. The premise is that one member of the cast has become quite thoroughly drunk by the time the curtain is raised – a state then maintained throughout the play’s duration. The result: unpredictable and hilarious. The Upcoming caught up with Norris about her work, this project and her ambitions.
Do you think Sh!t-faced Shakespeare is an even better premise than a free comic improvisation in a Shakespearean style?
Sh!t-faced Shakespeare has everything a straight Shakespearean improv show has, except the wheels come completely off. Sh!t-faced Shakespeare adds an element of danger, a raucous atmosphere and a complete loose cannon into the mix. The sober actors essentially do the same job as a Shakespearean improv troupe, except they have a shark in the tank with them.
Do you look forward to or dread your intoxicated performances?
You always look forward to your drunk shows and if, for some reason, you aren’t looking forward to a show, then that drunk shift will be given to someone else. No one drinks unless they really want to. It is essentially a night off where you get to mess with your fellow cast mates.
Do the performances end up being very different to one another?
Yes. Every night is completely different – after all, every drunk actor’s brain is completely different. The sober actors also rotate (each playing three roles), so that adds to the confusion and one-of-a-kind shows.
I hope you know that you’re trampling on the sanctity of the Bard’s work!
The sanctity is a modern concept created by people that read Shakespeare. Shakespeare was written to be performed. The Bard’s shows at The Globe would have been completely raucous; the groundlings were all drunk, beer was cheaper than water; the actors interacted with and responded to the groundlings. It was nowhere near the stuffy performances we sometimes see today – so I’m totally happy to trample all over that.
Is your initial sober rehearsal period as earnest as if you were putting on an un-sh!t-faced production?
Yes! We work very hard and create something we are very happy with that will ultimately never be seen.
Have you ever been completely caught out by a particularly unexpected drunken development?
Many times. Last week Claudio killed Hero and decided he wanted to cremate her. So he brought on a jar full of coffee and scattered it all over the stage. The sober actors are always peddling to keep up with the drunk but half the fun is watching them struggle!
Would you find it terribly dull to perform a straight Much Ado About Nothing at, say, The Globe next week?
We are all huge Shakespeare fans. You have to be to do this job! I think I can safely say all of our actors would love to work at The Globe and would be ready for any eventuality that may come our way in a performance… I would assume this would be less face-licking than we are currently used to?
Surely drunken antics tend to increase the play’s runtime?
We include some time for the drunk to “play” in our running time. We try to stick to time as much as possible which sometimes means major cuts and lots of sweating from the sober cast.
Which Shakespeare play best lends itself to being performed in this unique manner?
The comedies work because they become more ridiculous and the tragedies work because they become even more ridiculous. Genuinely, Much Ado is one of my favourites, as is Romeo and Juliet.
What less alcohol-fuelled projects do you have coming up?
I’m currently developing a children’s show, of all things. No drunken actors there, I promise!
Sh!t-faced Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing is at Leicester Square Theatre from 13th July until 9th September 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.