Having kept audiences laughing through Covid with their award-winning online DOING series, the Northern Comedy Theatre return to the stage with Doing Shakespeare, a clever and joyously silly play celebrating Shakespeare in all his occasionally incomprehensible glory. The Felching Players are back in action, and excited to be performing for a real live audience after all this time. And director Tom (Robert Stuart-Hudson) has had a brilliant idea: to do Shakespeare as Shakespeare would have done Shakespeare – in other words, each actor learns their part in isolation, and the whole cast meet on the day to plan entrances and exits. Unfortunately, due to a Zoom-related communication breakdown, when the day arrives, it turns out they’ve all learnt different plays. Another group might have let that stop them, but not this one; they decide to go ahead regardless, with predictably chaotic results.
So begins an immensely entertaining 90 minutes, during which six big personalities battle to outshine each other both on and off stage. David Spicer’s script quickly establishes the characters and relationships within the group as they bicker their way through Act 1, before coming together (sort of) in Act 2 to present… well, something. Such is the skill of the cast and director Shaun Chambers that it’s impossible to tell how much of Act 2 is scripted and how much is improvised on the spot – but either way, it works, and what the Players’ performance lacks in plot or coherence it more than makes up for in enthusiasm. And while the characters may be nothing we haven’t seen before – pompous Ebon (Steven Arnold), mouthy Terri (Kathryn Chambers), anxious Judith (Natasha Agarwal) – that doesn’t make them any less fun to watch or root for.
Ultimately, despite the in-fighting, cheap costumes and terrible acting, there’s something very heartwarming about Doing Shakespeare. The Felching Players may not be destined for theatrical stardom (one of them, it turns out, has only ever bothered to learn one Shakespeare play and uses the same lines in every performance – and none of her fellow actors have ever noticed), but they care about what they’re doing, and their excitement at being back in a real theatre is matched by that of both their fictional and real audiences. Who cares if they’re saying the right lines, as long as they’re standing (sometimes lying) on a stage and everyone’s having a good time?
For those who do “do Shakespeare”, there’s plenty of fun to be had trying to spot fake quotes among the real ones, but knowledge of the Bard certainly isn’t a prerequisite, and there’s something for everyone in this hilarious production. High culture it isn’t; great entertainment it absolutely is.
Doing Shakespeare continues at the Bridewell Theatre until 13th November.