Between us, we're neither particularly well-read in the classics; a million years ago, I once translated Romeo and Juliet into modern-day language (with the story set between the warring families of the Uncle Joe's Mint Ball Factory and Pimblett's Pies up in Wigan). And I could just about remember enough of the Merchant of Venice from a GCSE exam in the early nineties to recount the basic outline of the story.
Which is just as well, as this year, Shit-faced Shakespeare were doing The Merchant of Venice at the Warren as part of this year's Brighton Fringe. So at least we'd have an idea of what should have been going on, even if it went completely off-piste.
As it turns out, it was brilliant. The Warren has been pretty good to us this year, dishing up first Bane and now this (sadly, the SpiegelTent was less favourable, since the Singing Hypnotist failed to live up to his billing - sure, he may be a hypnotist, and he did, indeed sing. But that's like advertising "the whistling plasterer" and a guy in splattered overalls turns up to do a few bird impressions without ever getting his trowel out - so to speak).
Anyway, back to Shakespeare. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but the clue was in the title. At first, we thought the entire cast would be drunk and before the play started, it was explained that only one cast member had been at the booze. At first this seemed a little disappointing - we'd come to see drunk actors - plural.
But after the first scene, it became apparent just how clever the format is.
Only one of the cast is, literally, shit-faced. Which means the whole performance is chaotic, without ever falling into shambolic. The other (sober) actors keep the play running - delivering authentic, Shakespearian dialogue - while the piss-head causes mayhem.
With the other actors playing it (mostly) straight, yet incorporating the (often nonsensical) ideas of the drunk characters, you end up with something that seems vaguely familiar - yet hundreds of times funnier than anything old Shakey would dare to call a "comedy".
The sober players "riff" off the drunk's part-remembered, muddled dialogue - but each keeping entirely in character (the drunk player may occasionally slip up but the rest of the cast keep everything on track and the play continues without ever losing pace).
For our performance, it was Portia who was pissed.
This was a stroke of genius. It'd be easy to do the play with a drunken Shylock, who could rant and rave and go all Alf-Garnett on us. But Portia was always the true hero of this play. So it as always going to be a challenge, when she turned up drunk in the very first scene (as it turned out, she simply followed the other actors onto the stage when she shouldn't have even been there and tried to pass herself off as "Shylock's whore" as the cast members introduced themselves). And it was all the funnier as the actor struggled to keep in character - Portia is supposed to be strong and decisive, clever and articulate, cunning and curious; all the characteristics you'd traditionally associate with a drunk!
Shit-faced Shakespeare is a genius idea.
Not quite as genius as Bane - but another great performance from The Warren this weekend!