Shit-Faced Showtime offers itself up as a musical revue. But actually, while it borrows tunes from some of the great musicals, its four players and accompanist provide a full narrative of their own – telling of a British family's journey to New York, hoping for a new start and the possibility of young love. The twist, as the title might suggest, is that one of the players has spent the entire afternoon drinking alcohol… and is now on stage while happily bladdered.
It's a premise that the show's company, Magnificent Bastard Productions, established several years ago with their hugely-successful Shit-Faced Shakespeare. The tension builds as the drunk player corpses, ad libs, and generally runs amok – tension which is duly broken by laughter from the audience. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but it maintains a precarious balance, combining an incredibly-talented, well-rehearsed cast with a devil-may-care maverick, and it's an entertaining contrast between a relatively staid genre and a bar-room roustabout atmosphere.
In this instance the nominated drinker was Dora (self-declared producer of the show), who played the role of Mary – the young ingenue travelling with her parents. It started well, with a bit of corpsing, asides to the audience, a digression about her sister's attitude towards smoking and some really remarkable vocal feats. She’s clearly a strong singer and dancer and she impressed everyone present, with some rapid group choreography and a remarkable vocal range.
In fact, all of the performers were impressive, from what we were allowed to see of them. The show was beautifully put-together too. With a minimum of set and costume, the focus was on the lovely set-pieces, including a chair dance, duets, up-tempo comedy and dramatic exchanges.
But there, at every turn, was Dora. She took over every single scene, wandering in and deconstructing it out loud to the audience, talking over many of the lines and proving that even when sozzled she knew the show utterly. At first it worked well, as she shadowed 'Tony' in a song-and-dance set to 'Somewhere' from West Side Story, and in fact pretty much all of her escapades were individually entertaining. But to have the interruptions peppered so liberally made this particular outing much more 'Shit-Faced' than 'Showtime', stripping away the sense of tension that’s so important to the whole endeavour.
To be fair, when it became evident that this was happening, the rest of the cast handled their drunken partner well. Most notably, accompanist and narrator Dylan delivered some of the biggest laughs with scathing comments from behind the piano. And each night sees a different cast member intoxicated, so every night will have completely different variables.
Like all good improvisation, Shit-Faced Showtime tempts you in with its dangerous edge – so I'd be curious to see this set of players on their next rotation. Regardless of who it is that's over-indulged that night, they’re ultimately a collection of highly talented performers.