Drunk Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

Date: 2012
Posted by: inisnua
Cast: Adam Zpeka (Romeo), Angela Smith (Juliet), Kevin Meehan (Benvolio/himself), Jered McLenigan (Mercutio), Mike Doherty (Tybalt/Jake Blouch), Brian McCann (Friar Lawrence), Darin Dunston (The Prince), Bill Van Horne (The Nurse)
Credits: Filmed and edited by Katie Reing and Jared Michael Delaney. Conceived and directed by Jared Michael Delaney. Production company: Inis Nua Theatre Company
Duration: 7.07

It is undoubtedly true that Shakespeare, down the centuries, has not always been performed sober. It is only recently, however that the idea of ‘drunk Shakespeare’ has been encouraged to develop as a deliberate policy rather than as an accidental embarrassment. And so it is that a mini-genre of drunk Shakespeare videos has started to appear on YouTube. They come in two forms – either individuals slurring into their phones, or theatre companies who try to make an art out of it.

Among the pioneers of the form are American theatre company Inis Nua who started filming a Drunk Shakespeare series of short films in 2012, for a ‘Craicdown’ theatre show, videos that then made it on to YouTube. The video here is good example: a clearly inebriated narrator summarises the story of Romeo and Juliet, while actors play out the scenes and mouth his words. There is more calculation here than the sheer abandonment to drink might suggests, with the narrator getting his words right without need for too many cuts, and the matching of performances to narration being precisely done. As with all drunks, what starts off funny doesn’t take too long to become tedious, but this rendition of the play amuses for much of the time, and even illuminates a little. (The language is a little strong in places, please note)

Other have followed in Inis Nua’s wake. There is even a Drunk Shakespeare Society, which describes itself as a “company of PROFESSIONAL drinkers with a serious Shakespeare problem”. They perform in New York bars after a few stiff drinks, and encourage the audience to do the same, which no doubt helps the entertainment hugely.

What other author could be so honoured? James Joyce no doubt, but few besides. Drunken Austen or Dickens just wouldn’t work at all – there isn’t the same sense of affinity or affection. Drunken Shakespeare is a questing for poetry, a struggle with words through an alcoholic haze to pinpoint truth and beauty. Shakespeare himself gives us drunkenness in Twelfth Night and Henry IV(i) that finds an extra poetry through inebriation, an elation and a sadness. It’s just that the actors involved are that much better able to convey this for being sober.

(Actually, now that I think of it, maybe drunk Austen could work…)

Links: YouTube page
Inis Nua Theatre Company
The Drunk Shakespeare Society