Durham Drama Outreach’s Shakespeare Comedy Cabaret and the Durham Improvised Musical, aside from being a mouthful to pronounce, were a joy to behold.
Fresh off the back of a lecture on Shakespeare’s comedy but yesterday I was at my most receptive to a touch of renaissance humour. This performance didn’t disappoint. If truth be told, the opening montage featuring every Shakespearean cliché under the sun from ‘to be or not to be’ to ‘all the world’s a stage’ set alarm bells ringing, but the comedic choices thereafter were perfect. The casting of the only boy in the production as Juliet’s maid, for example, was a master stroke with the absurd accent working surprisingly well too. Such a portrayal differed massively from, say, the more expected depiction in Franco Zefirrelli’s 1968 film which removes every ounce of humour. The Durham Drama Outreach proved, however, that genuinely funny comedy can be found everywhere in Shakespeare. This performance modernised the age old humour, which to me is the perfect attitude to approaching the Bard – every so often it needs to be made contemporary to assert its timelessness once more. Hats off to a cultured choice of scenes that modernised Shakespeare to emphasise just how brash our humour was and always will be.
By contrast, the most perfectly scripted work of mankind turned to a complete improvisation with the Durham Improvised Musical taking suggestions from the floor as to the nature of their work. This must really take some doing. Considering their performance was completely off the top of their heads, the group need to be given serious credit. Yes the story was tenuous, yes some of the rhyming in the songs was forced but the wit was sublime. Moreover, the wonderful Yorkshire accents gave a great edge to the performance. This is the kind of act I would love to see again just to observe how they approach a different subject every time. Although a little bit rough in places, with a bit more work this group could feature comfortably at the Edinburgh Fringe and I don’t give that complement often. Even the sound and lighting was perfectly in sync with the rapid progression of a plot-less plot which was greatly impressive.
For a night poorly advertised by DST (I couldn’t find the name of the show on the Website or inside the theatre) the audience were highly receptive to two performances antithetical in nature but equal in terms of generated laughter.