It’s only been a few days since I watched Doing Whodunit?, one in a series of comedies from the Northern Comedy Theatre which pulls apart some of the things we got up to online during lockdown. And for many of us we still are as we wait for the next turn of events during this period of uncertainty. What you can be sure of, though, is that this team will always provide plenty of humour as they poke fun at some British pastimes which have had to adapt to survive. Their latest release (though actually the second in the series) Doing The Pub Quiz, examines what was practically a national obsession during the first lockdown – the phenomenon of the Zoom based quiz with all its inherent tendencies towards one-upmanship and knowitallism.
Our regular bunch of socially awkward individuals gather together to form a team to defeat the massed ranks of trivia quizzers up and down the land. Going under the team name of “We Are Smarticus” they attempt to cover a wide range of specialist subjects between them. Well, all apart from Judith (Lauren Molyneux) who will only answer questions on German philosophers and has never yet got an answer wrong – mainly because a question on that subject has never come up.
Then there’s Rebecca (Vikki Earle) who knows her stuff but can’t be bothered and spends most of her time making herself look good for the camera or Ebon (Kieran Maleedy) who’s dirt keen but over-stretching himself on the subjects he’s trying to master. The team is led by Tom (Robert Stuart-Hudson) a rather pretentious bore who loves a good set of rules and is keen that his team sticks to them; the others, not so much. For apparent polymath Jason (Rob Hardie) has a dirty little secret – he’s been cheating all along and encourages the others to join him. After all, winning does feel good and they could all do with feeling good right now.
Although a rather sedentary piece, most of the “action” revolves around the team’s meet up pre-quiz so that Tom can give them a pep talk and get their brains in gear. He seems to have entirely forgotten that it’s all supposed to be a bit of fun and gets annoyed when some of the others won’t treat it with the seriousness he thinks it deserves. There are particular frustrations in dealing with Terri (Kathryn Chambers) the team’s supposed sport expert who, rather than answering Tom’s practice questions, likes nothing more than to pick them apart for logical inconsistencies. The repartee between the two characters forms one of the highlights of the play and shows writer David Spicer mines a particular vein of sardonic humour which the talented team deliver with their usual aplomb.
Perhaps the formula is becoming a little repetitive, but Pub Quiz didn’t seem quite as sparky and inventive as some of the other entries in the series – personally, I still think Shakespeare (the first episode) is the most enjoyable but that might all depend on what each individual viewer finds interesting. The Zoom format used is appropriate to the subject matter so that even any temporary glitches (once or twice characters disappeared for no apparent reason) seem to be part of the set up but the frustrating time lapses inherent in the platform do lead to some overly long pauses when rapid cue bite is essential to the comedy.
Having worked on some Zoom plays myself over the last year, I can only imagine director Shaun Chambers’ frustration as the technology doesn’t quite keep pace with the company’s ambitions. In truth, though, there’s not much that can be done and it is worth remembering that this was recorded in the early days on, let’s face it, a system that was designed primarily for business calls. Talking of business, I’ve just noticed that the team have released the final episode of the Doing… series which purports to pick apart that particular area of life in lockdown, so I’ll be back to enjoy that soon. Meanwhile, perhaps I should apply to Mastermind – specialist subject the Doing… plays of Northern Comedy Theatre.