I first came across Northern Comedy Theatre’s work in early summer 2020 when the pandemic was wreaking havoc with the theatre industry and practitioners had turned to promoting their product online. A popular way of doing this was via the video conferencing app Zoom – and don’t we all wish we’d had shares in that particular company? Those productions that I had seen using this fledgling medium tended to turn to existing texts to provide their material, but what NCT did was quite different and provided a breath of fresh air.
They set what they did within the world of Zoom itself and rapidly came up with a set of plays that examined some of the nation’s pastimes as reimagined for the lockdown era – David Spicer’s Doing plays. With these at their heart and making a total of ten productions in the space of one year, the company created a body of online material quite unlike anything else and were awarded a much-deserved Off West End One Off Award for their consistently good work.
The prolific group now have their sights set on a two-week (and totally live) residency at London’s Bridewell Theatre. To mark the occasion, I met up (on Zoom, of course) with Artistic Director Shaun Chambers and writer David Spicer. What follows is an edited transcript, but you’ll just have to imagine the laughter which burst from all three of us at regular intervals. It’s the most fun I’ve had doing an interview.
I’d assumed Shaun and David were both from north of Watford but not a bit of it. It turned out that the latter was a south Londoner, so I started by asking them how they first made contact in early 2019 when the world was rather different.
SC: We found a wonderful play called Stop The Play and put that on. David sent me an email about it which I didn’t pick up until after we’d done it and when we got in touch he said he had another script he’d been tinkering with
DS: It takes me a long time to write stage plays and I’d had this for quite a while. It was called Health And Safety and considered to be in rather dubious taste…
SC: It was ideal! It was really funny and right up my street; there was a lot of physical stuff. We put that on in February 2020 in Liverpool and worked with David on it.
DS: It was literally the last place I went before…
SC: Two weeks later everything shut down. The tour I’d set up for it got cancelled.
DS: We had a talk and the original idea was to do Health And Safety as a Zoom play. My comment to that was “Let’s not!”; it was all too physical to work. I’d been watching some stuff on Zoom, and I thought if this is what we are going to do, we’re going to have to go back to basics and start rethinking how we’re going to put a story across in a Zoom setting as opposed to something which really belongs on stage
SC: We decided that it definitely had to be something original and getting used to all that was tricky because I’d never worked on this kind of thing before. And it had to be live; we were always quite keen on that. There was something nice about “going on” each night (unlike other companies, each performance from NCT was unique and so nearer to a theatre performance than many other online shows)
DS: It was an idea that literally came from a very long phone call where we said we’ve got six actors who were going to be out on tour and no one was going to be doing very much. And Shaun said If you can come up with an idea we’ll do it. Shaun is completely fearless …
SC: You mean stupid! Doing Shakespeare came from nowhere and arrived within two or three days. I couldn’t believe that David didn’t have it lying around
DS: I’ve always been a little bit nervous of Shakespeare; I don’t feel I know enough. I’ve always wanted to do something that cuts through that. It all came quite quickly and was almost like doing a crossword puzzle – very satisfying