Comedy Interview Musicals & Opera Interview

Issy Wroe-Wright: A Pissedmas Carol

By | Published on Friday 15 November 2019

Readers are probably very much aware of Magnificent Bastard Productions, the company behind the ‘Shit-Faced Shakespeare’ and ‘Shit-Faced Showtime’ shows, stagings of classic plays and musicals benefiting from the deliberate inclusion of one drunk performer.

Now they’re making my Christmas dreams come true by combining the casts of both shows for a sozzled musical version of ‘A Christmas Carol’. To find out more about it all I spoke to the company’s Issy Wroe-Wright, producer and performer, and herself a veteran of the ‘Showtime’ cast.

CM: I know pretty much every one in the world knows the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’, but can you tell us about the story you set out to tell? Is it like the original?
IW-W: We set-out to tell Dickens’ original story. We try to keep the script as close to Dickens’ original words, and it makes it even more hilarious when the script goes off piste.

Once there’s a drunk in the mix we really have no idea what the end of the show will be. The drunk has full licence to do what they like with the story and the cast plays along. Every night is very different.

For example, in our most recent production of ‘Alice In Wonderland’, one night our rummed and randy White Rabbit insisted we finish the play with an orgy to the musical accompaniment of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’. It gets quite mental. With ‘A Pissedmas Carol’s dark themes and being set amidst a severe Victorian London, I can already predict the lunacy that will prevail.

CM: Most importantly, will it be festive?
IW-W: It certainly will. We’ve tonnes of festive tunes – new and old – a human turkey and a snow machine. We’ve packed as much of Christmas that we can into a roller coaster hour. We’re mixing genres, there’s horror, there’s comedy and festive frivolity. It’s like ‘Woman In Black’ meets ‘Muppets’ Christmas Carol’… if Kermit drinks 3/4s of a bottle of Gin before telling Michael Caine to fuck off!

CM: Can you explain, for those who don’t know, what exactly happens with a Shit-Faced show?
IW-W: We take a group of skilled improvisers and singers and prepare an hour long musical or classical text. Each night a different actor is given four hours prior to the show to get sloshed. Come curtain up, they are given free-reign to do whatever they like, it’s up to the sober cast to improvise around them. In every show we have a compere provided to take care of the night’s proceedings, guiding the drunk through the show, steering them away or toward the anarchy… depending on how well they’re doing.

CM: Where did the idea to do this come from?
IW-W: ‘Shit-Faced Shakespeare’ was spawned, like most great concepts, on a drunken night out. It was trialled at the Secret Garden Party festival, where we hospitalised our first actor and swore to never do it again… until the next night where we played to a packed-out crowd that sprawled out of the tent and into the port-a-loo field. Eleven years later we’re still going as strong as our drinks.

CM: What has it been like mixing the two casts for the Christmas show? Do they have different skills?
IW-W: It’s probably been the easiest rehearsal process so far. The cast are dab hands at the unique ask of the shit-faced show. We’ve selected an extremely talented cast that each have their own unique skill set. Incredible improvisers, singers and actors with a great grasp of classical text. Despite being in different shows, the company is already tight-knit group so on the drinking side of things most of us are familiar with each-others drunken tendencies and foibles.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about what happens in these shows…? I mean, we know you have the inebriated cast member potentially throwing things off course… but can you give us a bit of detail about how it usually affects things?
IW-W: I suppose what the drunk brings to proceedings is a licence to create anarchy, like a big improvisation game whereby one actor constantly challenges and disrupts and everyone working around them has to adapt the story and their performances accordingly to compensate for what the drunk is doing. Sometimes that can involve whole character arcs changing, different relationships emerge, the very foundations of the story turned upside down. Imagine Scrooge being perfectly pleasant and amiable at the beginning of the show and everyone around him trying to find or invent small, trivial reasons to call him a cunt.

CM: What made you decide to tackle ‘A Christmas Carol’?
IW-W: We’ve always wanted to do a Christmas show, as well as have the two casts collaborate more closely, and to combine a classical text with fun festive songs and dance numbers – luckily a slot opened up at Leicester Square Theatre for a Christmas Show and we pounced at the chance!

CM: Some more general questions about the plays you do: when you rehearse, do you rehearse as though it’s a normal play? Do you create the play that it would be, if it didn’t have a drunk person in it? Does that make sense?
IW-W: Basically, yes and yes. We rehearse the play that will never, ever be seen, an uninterrupted show with no belching, slurring or drooling! It’s a bit of a shame because we love performing the play in its purest form and, rather understandably, no one will get to see it!

CM: Has anyone ever got actually too drunk to perform? Or passed out half way through or anything?
IW-W: In the earlier days we used to have plenty of casualties, people passing out, vomiting, breaking limbs – though that was actually a sober performer! – nowadays we are lot more practised in what it takes to provide a good level of ‘drunk’.

CM: What is it like being one of the sober performers?
IW-W: I used to look forward to my drunk shows more than my sober shows as it used to be looked as sort of a night off! But I have really come to enjoy the sober shows even more, with the level of fun to be had improvising around the drunk, playing with the other actors, it’s really thrilling being on the sober side of affairs wondering what the hell is going to happen as the drunk thrashes around like Godzilla in downtown Tokyo.

CM: Can you tell us about the company and how it began? How long have you been doing this?
IW-W: The company itself, Magnificent Bastard Productions, has been going strong for eleven years now, starting out at music festivals and then moving onto the Fringe scene before taking up a more permanent residency in the West End as well as internationally.

‘Shitfaced Showtime’ was launched five years ago and has followed a similar trajectory, starting on the London pub Fringe circuit before selling out in Edinburgh Fringe and taking up spots at West End Venues. ‘Shit-Faced Showtime’ now has its own dedicated following as well as the ‘Shit-Faced Shakespeare’ fanbase.

Performing this collaboration is a fantastic way of treating both set of fans to something brand new!

CM: What ambitions do you have for it all in the future?
IW-W: I hope to take ‘Showtime’ internationally in the next few years as well as a UK tour – much like our Shakespearean sisters who are currently touring with ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’. I have a few grander plans in the pipeline that are still awaiting clearance, It’s proving hard to find the budget and licensing to perform the show on the Moon, but when did technicalities ever stop us before eh?

CM: What’s coming up for you and the company next after this?
IW-W: We are currently in discussions to develop a few new shows under the Magnificent Bastard Company umbrella, veering away from the Shit-faced model, but definitely retaining that sense of audacity and chaos – but fear not, we will still continue to bring you classic Shit-faced revelry until our livers combust and the stage managers are left clearing away the debris of our former selves.

A Pissedmas Carol’ is on at Leicester Square Theatre from 20 Nov-5 Jan. See the venue website here for info and to book.

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