Saturday, May 28

Doing Shakespeare – Hope Street Theatre

The Northern Comedy Theatre’s Doing Shakespeare, written by David Spicer and directed by Shaun Chambers, is a farcical romp through some of Shakespeare’s best loved plays. A local village theatre company have taken the decision to perform Shakespeare but haven’t actually agreed which play to do. This might all work out if they hadn’t also taken the decision to perform the play as Shakespeare himself would have done with little to no rehearsal and lots of improvisation. As they’ve all learned different plays, stitching their individual parts together will prove to be quite a difficult task!

The play opens with Jason (Elliot Bailey) running through his vocal warm up before launching into the opening of Romeo and Juliet. He is embarrassed when his enthusiastic rendition is seen by the company’s Artistic Director, Tom (Robert Stuart-Hudson) but this is soon forgotten in the excitement felt by the company over performing after almost two years of being unable to due to lockdown.

The nods toward the pandemic and its effects on both society and the arts add a level of contemporaneous humour to the piece. A lot of the comedy also stems from the differences between “Shakespearean accents” when compared with actors’ real accents and the notion that most audience members do not understand the dialogue in Shakespearean plays anyway, so you can say anything and, as long as it is said with conviction, the play will make sense.

The overacting utilised by the actors is funny, particularly Steven Arnold’s Laurence Olivieresque soliloquies. Some of the jokes are however a little repetitive and overused, so the script could benefit from some tightening up and more daring, unpredictable humour. One of the better jokes stems from Terri’s (Kathryn Chambers) real clothes being confused with her ideas for costumes, a situation I have seen happen in rehearsal rooms which always lead to awkwardly hilarious conversations. Arguments about the plays’ messages to modern audiences as Rebecca (Bess Ascroft) tries to defend feminism in her chosen play, also create some interesting humour with a serious undertone.

The dynamics between the actors, who on the whole don’t get on with anyone else in the group at all, are good and an interesting insight into smaller, local drama groups, which often have as much drama offstage as on. The quietly spoken and sweet Judith (Farron Ronan) is easily ignored by the group and her contributions to earlier plays are forgotten. The determination of the group to offer a slice of culture to an ungrateful village is coupled with their apathy and wondering why they even bother. The play pokes fun at actors having their favourite Shakespearean speeches and their determination to perform these no matter what.

The costumes, particularly in the second half, and props used, point towards both the shoestring budget which some drama groups operate with and create some funny situations. A sense is created of the actors’ show being cobbled together, which creates a realistic feeling.

Doing Shakespeare is a fun and bawdy farce, which is probably more similar to the Shakespeare he would have done himself than we realise. A peek at the backstage world of smaller theatre groups, with lower budgets, homemade props and a collaborative approach to decision making which is often railroaded by either the loudest member or the one who has declared themselves to be “in charge” with no one else’s agreement, this is Shakespeare as he would have done it, with arguments, last minute catastrophes and improvised death scenes.

Doing Shakespeare is on tour until 14th March 2022. Tickets are available here

Reviewer: Donna M Day

Reviewed: 24th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★