It’s just about that time when many column inches are devoted to reflections on the past twelve months and tying up some of the loose ends which inevitably occur and although I’ll no doubt be doing the former more fully next week, I thought I’d dip a toe in the water. One of the constant delights of this year has been the discovery of new groups/venues/writers/performers that one might never have got to experience under normal circumstances – and by normal, I mean a time when theatres were open regularly and audiences gathered to watch plays, musicals, shows and other work involving “two planks and a passion”. If for no other reason, ordinary geographical constraints on travel would necessarily limit experiences and now we can’t actually go anywhere. Never mind though; through the wonders of the internet we can enjoy all sorts of undreamed of goodies.
One of the groups I’ve experienced a great deal of fun with is Northern Comedy Theatre who since April have released seven plays by David Spicer, five of which lift the lid on life in lockdown Britain. Known as the Doing … series they have shown us a mirror image of ourselves struggling with the intricacies of communicating online and trying to retain a semblance of normality when it comes to our leisure time. Thus, we have laughed along as the enterprising group of young performers have tackled bringing Shakespeare to life, forming a team for online quizzing, discussing the many books they have read (or haven’t) and trying to work out whodunit in a murder mystery evening. Now the last of the series returns to Zoom’s original purpose which was to bring together work colleagues for remote meetings in the comedy, Doing Business which was first performed live but has now emerged as a video on theatre online platform Scenesaver (another of 2020’s good things).
A business team comes together to discuss (for which read bicker and try and do the dirty on each other) potential redundancy for one of them. Their company, Sunbritecrest Conservatories PLC, is floundering in the national economic downturn and one of the sales team has to go … or as management has it “be given the opportunity to expand their horizons”. Team leader Tom (Robert Stuart -Hudson playing a variation on an already established persona) only knows that a decision has been made that they must lose a team member but not who that will be. That, he says, is for the team to discuss and reach a decision. Will it be the cynical Jason (Rob Hardie), the bolshie Terri (Kathryn Chambers), the largely silent but management flattering Rebecca (Vikki Earle), the sensible Judith (Lauren Molyneux) or the boring pedant Ebon (Kieran Maleedy)? And what method should they use to make that decision; a vote, an in-depth investigation of the year’s sales figures or should they simply play Rock, Paper, Scissors and be done with it? The characters, as ever in these plays, don’t seem to have any sort of a plan or much of a clue…. except that one of them does and in a surprise twist which I won’t reveal here they put events in motion and the play suddenly goes to a rather darker place.
Writer David Spicer once again captures the nuances of group dynamics in a distanced situation as the cry goes up “You’re on mute”, people interrupt because they haven’t factored in Zoom’s time lag and nobody is quite sure when anyone has finished speaking – as they discover simply saying “Over” doesn’t work. He also has a great deal of fun with the sort of self-aggrandizing management speak that seems like a joke but is sadly probably all too real (cf TV’s The Apprentice). This production seemed somewhat shorter than the others in the series but with it being a business meeting there’s not much by way of visual distraction, so brevity is probably a good thing. It’s also somewhat slicker than earlier entries – director Shaun Chambers and his team have obviously got more used to the vagaries of the Zoom systems and its limitations.
While I don’t think this is the best of the bunch, it wraps the series up nicely and at least goes back to the original purpose of Zoom – hands up those who wish that they had bought shares in that particular company twelve months ago? The five shows have done a fine job in reflecting a mirror image of stay-at-home Britain in 2020 and in bringing the Northern Comedy Theatre to wider attention and that’s one present that I’ve been particularly glad to receive.
Doing The Business is available via the Scenesaver platform – click here. The other four shows in the Doing …series are also available on the same platform along with their Halloween Special Bump In The Night
The team’s current show The Ministry Of Christmas has got one more live outing this evening; catch it if you can- click here for tickets and here for a review
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