Largely not being able to interact with friends and family throughout the curse (I actually meant to write “course”, but I’ll let that interesting error stand) of the last thirteen months has meant that regularly remotely visiting some companies/venues to review their work has become a vital connection to the outside world. And that’s definitely how I felt when settling down to watch Northern Comedy Theatre’s latest (last?) online outing yesterday. I’ve seen all ten of their online shows since the pandemic started and they have never failed to bring a smile to my face. And they did so yet again with this latest piece called Perfect. Of course, with a title like that you’re in danger of setting yourself up as a hostage to fortune but NCT have crafted another winning comedy which comments on many aspects of modern existence and particularly the political landscape. The central character is the heir apparent to the unfortunate Malcolm Skinner from their earlier The Ministry Of Christmas (which I still think is one of their best) but here Spicer’s script also puts education, the media and particularly celebrity in the firing line. If this seems a bit too scattergun at least it means that ideas are not stretched too thinly.
Daniel Lewis, the rather hapless junior education minister, is announcing a new OFSTED inspectorate grading system and gets into a profound tangle over the criteria for each category. He tries to lighten the mood by defining the top level, badged Perfect, by quoting from the Lou Reed song Perfect Day. Before he knows where he is, visiting the cinema and zoo and “drinking sangria in the park” is being quoted as government policy by a disingenuous media and Lewis has to fight a rear guard action to clarify the official position. Things take a particularly difficult turn when a llama dies offending the Peruvian government in the process and then there’s the inevitable sex scandal (though not with a llama or the Peruvian government). Of course, Lewis only succeeds in making matters worse and himself a laughing stock with his indecision and bluster …. Any similarity to an actual government education minister is, naturally, completely coincidental! Or indeed any politician whatever their background, because Spicer also satirises those who use politics as a springboard to attain more general celebrity through the medium of talent contest shows for dancing, cooking, etc. (take a bow Ed Balls – no, literally take an entertainment type bow) encouraged by their publicists, a sense of their own egos and the fleeting fame that may have eluded them in Parliament.
Julien Ball proves ideal casting as Lewis and is completely believable as the cluelessly naïve politician. Desperately trying to please everybody and thereby pleasing nobody he could have walked straight off the set of The Thick Of It; he makes an even more accurate nondescript “celebrity”. The other 24 characters are played by a team of four – NCT regulars Kathryn Chambers, Vikki Earle, Connor Simkins and Robert Stuart Hudson. As I’ve learned to expect the characterisations are carefully crafted and differentiated sufficiently for there to be clarity. I particularly enjoyed the TV producer Xandra who is determined to turn every setback into a televisual advantage and the Brummie government driver who has seen a whole gamut of political sexual sleaze – or has he? Keep the youngsters well away from that bit!
The production directed by Shaun Chambers and David Spicer is a mixture of live performance and pre filmed material. The many transitions between the two work seamlessly to produce something bridging the worlds of theatre and film. When I think back to the very first online NCT show, Doing Shakespeare, it is remarkable quite how far the team have come and how much they are now able to achieve in this new medium and it’s fantastic that an essentially local company has been able to gain a significant amount of nationwide recognition including several awards. I understand this is to be their last planned online show as live performance makes a return (hopefully). If that is the case then I for one shall miss them as I have loved charting their progress and after many hours in their remote company have come to regard them as online friends. I entirely understand the drive to get back on the real stage (I feel that way myself) but to finish on a plea: perhaps you can consider doing the occasional online production, so the rest of the country isn’t left entirely bereft. No pressure!
Perfect is available via the Northern Comedy Theatre’s website – click here
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