Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Dance, puppetry, butt-love and magic
Five minutes into the show, Romeo pulls an audience member on-stage and hands him a cold beer. The entire cast, including the audience member, proceed to do a shot of vodka each before launching into an enthusiastic swordfight. It's Shakespeare, but not as you've ever seen it before. Welcome to Shotspeare, the only Adelaide Fringe Festival show with a bar inside the tent.
Directed by Matt Morgan, Shotspeare is a production of Romeo and Juliet where the actors - and ideally the audience - are taking part in a raucous drinking game. Audience members are encouraged to throw balled-up socks at the actors. There is a big wheel with various forfeits on it, which is spun before every soliloquy. Romeo is forced to speak his famous balcony monologue while being fed dry crackers by another actor. It's a dirty-joke-filled, sweaty, violent spectacle, utterly devoid of the usual Elizabethan dignity that most Shakespeare productions aim for.
It's an idea that could easily go wrong, but the actors handle the challenges of the medium like the professionals they are – and they are professionals, with decades of acting experience under their codpiece-heavy belts. Underneath the college-party trappings, Shotspeare is a genuinely good production of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo himself excels at portraying a violent manchild who treats sex like violence and violence like sex. Juliet plays her scenes with authentic emotional impact, even when forced to stop mid-line and do a shot of cheap vodka. The actor playing Tybalt – who also plays a very masculine Nurse – is convincing both as a pompous blowhard and as a preening matron.
There's enough raw talent there to carry Shotspeare's most unusual gimmick: choosing an audience member to play the role of Paris, a major character in the second half of the play. It's a trick that keeps people coming back, since the element of necessary improvisation makes the play different every night. Being Shotspeare's Paris is not for the faint-hearted – the chosen audience member gets stabbed (with prop blades), groped (by the other actors), and drunk (on real alcohol). If you're concerned about being dragged up on stage, take note: because of the groping, they only choose male audience members, and they only choose people who seem enthusiastic about getting drunk. Keep your drink out of sight, or don't drink, and you'll probably be safe.
Above all else, Shotspeare is a thoroughly fun experience. And it's not some modern-day travesty of "real Shakespeare" - it's what Shakespeare's plays were originally like. Romeo and Juliet didn't start as a civilized play for the upper class; it started with a drunken, heckling, food-throwing audience who came for the violence and stayed for the dirty jokes. In a very real sense, Shotspeare is getting back to Romeo and Juliet's authentic roots.
You can see Shotspeare at 10:45pm in the Garden of Unearthly Delights at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. It goes for an hour, give or take, and tickets start at $27. You can book online through the Fringe website, or buy tickets in person from the booths in Rundle Mall or the Garden itself.