‘There are some very funny moments’: DOING THE BOOK CLUB – Northern Comedy Theatre (Online review)

In Comedy, Online shows, Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by John ChapmanLeave a Comment

What seems like an age ago now, but was actually only late June, I came across and enjoyed a play called Doing Shakespeare performed by the Northern Comedy Theatre. It turned out to be the first of a quintet of plays which became the Doing… series all written by David Spicer. Although one of the features of these plays is that they were all performed live via Zoom, a recording of the fourth in the series, Doing The Book Club, has now surfaced on Scenesaver which will give many more people the opportunity to get a taste of what the project is all about.

Having enjoyed the “local drama group” last time, I found myself  back in Felching to observe the resident book club in action. It is hosted by Rebecca who is rather full of herself, but she has nothing on Tom who pompously insists on calling the meeting the Literary Circle and has recently found himself a publisher, or so he supposes. For this book club/literary circle specialises in not only reading and discussing established books but also contains several budding authors such as Jason, Judith and Ebon. The one fly in the ointment is Terri who has only recently joined and has little interest in reading and possibly even less in writing anything. This ill-assorted bunch spend as much time arguing between themselves as they do getting to grips with the written word much to their leader’s frustration.

In the first section the sextet considers some books they have supposedly been studying, e.g. The Catcher In The Rye and We Need To Talk About Kevin but Judith is hampered by the fact she can never finish anything and Terri considers everything “is shit” unless it has some raunchy bits so they don’t get very far. It even gets a bit serious when a brief discussion about what constitutes a good book takes place, although I think I might question the conclusion reached that there are no bad books, only bad readers.

So, they turn their attention to writing as each of them reveals what they have been working on – in Terri’s case, she hasn’t. Rebecca causes some hysterics with her unfortunate choice of titles for her derivative series of vampire novels, Ebon’s proposed graphic novel is hampered by the fact that he plainly can’t draw and Judith’s stunningly obvious rip off of Harry Potter (obvious to all but her, anyway) is unlikely ever to be finished. Terri in a leadership takeover bid is supposedly arbitrating which of the self-penned works the group should read. Tom’s novel with a publisher “Parsimonious Periwig” is briefly considered but rejected as too historical and so it looks like Jason’s action thriller (with raunchy bits) is going to win out. But then the technology goes on the blink and it is left to Terri to narrate herself out of the situation. This last meta theatrical section  might well have been subtitled Five Characters In Search Of An Author.

The cast of six are fully into their character arcs by this episode and live up to expectations as recognisable types. The group bounce consistently off of each other but would do well to remember that comedy only fully works when the actors are deadly serious about what they are doing. However, there are indeed some very funny moments as pretensions and insecurities come to the fore. Shaun Chambers’ direction is generally brisk and makes good use of apparently frozen screens towards the end. There are, of course, the inevitable technological glitches but the performers handle these with aplomb. The biggest drawback is the time lag that Zoom imposes on its users – there are moments (mercifully few) when delays occur making the comic timing seem out of kilter which can rather kill the lines. It’s difficult to see a way round that as the performers are at the mercy of the technology as it is in the moment. Perhaps it was more noticeable this time round because it was a recording.

Alan Ayckbourn’s 2005 play Improbable Fiction covers much the same ground as this play which meant, for me anyway, that it lacked a bit of originality. However, when viewed as part of David Spicer’s series about British pastimes it is certainly an area ripe for revisiting. Northern Comedy Theatre have once again brightened up the online drama landscape and I look forward to their forthcoming Doing … specials slated for Halloween and Christmas.

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John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.
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John Chapman on RssJohn Chapman on Twitter
John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.

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