Northern Comedy Theatre have already produced seven online shows since the start of lockdown and it looks like, rather than putting their feet up, they have hit the ground running in 2021. Considering each of the seven have been performed live on Zoom over several evenings and then emerged as videoed versions on the Scenesaver Platform that shows more than a little commitment to the cause and fully justifying their scooping of a OneOff Award from Off West End.com.
This latest show is a departure from their now fully established way of doing things; as the title reveals it is a series of comic vignettes picking apart the modern concept of love especially as it lived through modern technology during a pandemic: I wonder whether “Love In The Time Of Covid” was ever considered as a title. It is also the first of their shows not to be written entirely by prolific playwright David Spicer, though he is retained as script editor. I’m afraid I wasn’t quick enough at the credits to spot who had done the writing, but I understand that he and the whole team worked in tandem to develop these new ideas.
As might be expected in a show of this nature there are variations in quality and some sketches appealed more than others but taken as a whole, I enjoyed what I saw. In particular those that were allowed to develop a little more fully tended to work best, such as the sketch between Vikki Earle and Kieran Maleedy where he’s hoping for a sexy dance via the internet and she’s upsetting all his carefully nurtured expectations. The longest sketch features Robert Stuart Hudson as a radio DJ getting dumped very publically on air and clearly has the makings of being expanded into a rather more substantial piece. And it was good to see the same actor reviving his hopeless politician from the Christmas special to let us know that Valentine’s Day was definitely not going to be cancelled…unless it was.
Of course, unlike Cupid, not everything hit the target and I felt this particularly applied to the running gags of the dating app video profiles which punctuated the more substantial sketches. I also didn’t quite “get” the supposedly inherent humour in baked beans which, in any case, was rather too similar to The Fast Show’s “Cheesy Peas” sketches. However, the beauty of this type of show is that if there is something which isn’t quite sticking there will soon be another coming along. As I’ve come to expect from this group there is also a level of invention that lifts things beyond the expected: Kathryn Chambers effectively talking to a mirror image of herself was particularly well done. And I hope the actors won’t take it amiss but one of the pieces I most enjoyed was the two people texting each other played out to the background of “Je t’aime”. I thought this highlighted another key theme of the evening, that of communication difficulties so often a central pillar of the British romcom.
One thing which has become increasingly noticeable with the group’s work is how they are managing to squeeze good value out of Zoom theatre to the point where they handling it in a much more sophisticated way to produce very smooth results. I recall in earlier reviews that I was highlighting the difficulties with the delay built into the platform which tended to diminish the effect of any repartee as cue bite could be slow. Happily, regular director Shaun Chambers and his team seem to have found ways to get round this so that it’s no longer obvious that the actors are all distanced from one another.
Eight shows in less than a year would be a tall order for any company in normal times let alone at the moment and with the anniversary of their first online show Doing Shakespeare looming it has been good to hear that there are plans to bring it to a real stage when feasible. Very best wishes for that and whatever the group decide to do next.
Valentine’s Sketch Show is available via Northern Comedy Theatre’s website – click here
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