Sunday, February 25

Doing Shakespeare – Assembly Roxy Theatre, Edinburgh

Doing Shakespeare at the Roxy for one night only sees Northern Comedy Theatre on the road for a whistlestop tour of Scotland and Northern England bringing David Spicer’s laddish take on the canon of the Bard.

Part of a series of six plays for six actors, written during lockdown and designed for broadcast over zoom, this is an adventurous, playful and to some extent experimental project piece. However, sitting alongside other titles like Doing the Pub Quiz, Doing Whodunnit, Doing the Bookclub, and Doing the business, you have to wonder about the logic of targeting the world’s most revered scribe.

Set in the village of Felching, the local am-dram society meet together again after lockdown to put on a Shakespeare play. Unfortunately, due to miscommunication each of the six members has prepared a role from a different play.

Each play is in turn lauded by its champion and shouted down by the throng, Hamlet, The classiest Classic of them all, Macbeth, because it’s got fighting and witches, Shrew which has a strong female lead and could appeal to the Me2 generation, Romeo and Juliet – no, it’s about a man who abuses a 13-year-old girl, King Lear – no, a raping nut job, or Hamlet – nope, a total mother loving loony.

Chaos and lots of shouting ensues. There is a joke about the Scottish play. There is a question of whether they should all go to the pub instead … Em yes. You should. Unfortunately, they don’t and plough on with “doing Shakespeare like Shakespeare did Shakespeare”, with no rehearsals and relying on the actor’s wit and improv. skills to string the story together. After all, as director Tom implores, “without us the village of Felching would be a cultural desert”.

The point is rather well made that nobody understands the language of Shakespeare anyway and that you could just make up any old rubbish if it is delivered with enough confidence and verve in a suitably Shakespearian lilt. There are moments of hope here, if not brilliance.

The first act ends with a call to arms from the now united group, ‘cry haddock and bring on the bullshite”! Right, where’s the bar?

We are certainly treated to some fine costumes in the second act and a good deal more movement and play. There is no denying the gameness of the actors to push on and make a good go of this offering, particularly towards the end. Robert Stuart-Hudson’s physicality in his portrayal of a mad king gives truth to the line, ‘the king doth look as mad as a box of frogs’. Likewise, Farron Ronan as Judith does a fine job of flouncing around, delivering some particularly beautiful, made-up soliloquies and ringing some appropriately old-looking bells.

In the main however, the characters are mostly forgettable and the comedic potential of the proposition, of stitching together a new play from the disparate parts is never fully realised. There is not enough meat on the bone of any of the characters for the audience to care when they all resolve to die. Ironically it produces the plays high point as the death pile questions how to get off stage, ‘are we just meant to lie here until the audience go’?  The pile instead resolves to slither towards the exit in a suitably hilarious fashion.

Unfortunately, it is far too little, far too late.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 22nd October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★