Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators is a comedy drama detective series, in which ex-hairdresser Luella Shakespeare (Jo Joyner) and former police detective inspector Frank Hathaway (Mark Benton) solve crimes in Stratford-upon-Avon.
I don’t get to see a lot of daytime TV, but with that infamous “Beast From The East” Snowmeggedden that happened recently, I got sent home early from work/wasn’t able to get to work a couple of days. I had spotted this show in TV magazines, and as I like both Mark Benton and Jo Joyner, I decided to check it out, and I got hooked on it and caught up with the rest of the series on BBC iPlayer.
I will say it’s a bit of an acquired taste, at least for me. It’s a little patchy, the acting is pretty hammy, and you definitely have to suspend your disbelief. But it’s also very watchable. It’s light tone helps that, and it is very amusing. I wouldn’t say it’s “cosy”, but for murder mystery, it is not mean-spirited at all! The scenery is also very beautiful, which definitely adds to the appeal.
While the series wears its comedy-drama label on its sleeve, the specific mix, just how much is comedy and how much is drama, takes some getting used to. William Shakespeare
himself was known for having two distinct types with his plays, Tragedy and Comedy, but he is also famous for being a believer in light and shade, he made sure to put comic relief in the tragedies and poignancy in the comedies.
There are a lot of references to the Bard. For a start, the two lead characters are named after Shakespeare himself, and Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife (and yes, as a side note apparently the modern day film star of the same name is named after her too).
The detective duo have a sidekick, Sebastian Brudenell (Patrick Walshe McBride), a RADA trained actor who works undercover in various costumes, including in drag, as an emo, a workman and a posh rich guy. He lives in a flat above a costume shop owned by a woman named Gloria (Roberta Taylor – Inspector Gold in The Bill!).
Amber Aga plays D.I. Christina Marlowe, who is named after Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary playwright of Shakespeare who had a lot of influence on him. D.I. Marlowe in this programme is a former protegé of Frank. She appreciates Frank and Luella’s help in solving cases, but resents their interference, two sides of the same coin really.
Episode one ‘O Brave New World’ began very sitcom-like, with Frank taking photos of suspects, getting chased by a salivating dog, then getting his foot stuck in a wooden crate and running into a taxi, and the driver insisted on a full fare upfront before driving!
It is just Hathaway Investigations to begin with, but Luella Shakespeare is a client thinking her fiancé Clive (Nigel Whitmey) is having an affair. She has only been with him for 13 weeks and they met online. He turns out to be a con man who emptied her bank account, but then he is found dead stabbed with a pair of scissors. He had faked his death on previous occasions – he is in fact a serial bigamist! – but he’s dead for real this time. I might have already revealed too much, but as for who the killer turns out to be, let’s just say Clive’s past catches up with him.
Some of my favourite moments in the episode:
Frank is dressed up as Henry VIII for the Tudor themed wedding reception.
Luella gets a wedding present of some mounted deer antlers from an auntie. “She and my mum never got on”. This present proves useful later on in the episode though.
Julia Deakin (Marsha from Spaced!) as Luella’s mother.
Frank spraying a fire extinguisher over someone who stole a laptop.
When asked about whether a secretary was crying crocodile tears, Frank says “I can tell when a woman is faking it”. Sneaked that past the daytime TV radar, didn’t they?
Luella is a partner in the business by the end. She makes sure her name is painted on the door, and is the first name, but it’s only fair really, considering she invested a lot of money into the business just in time to save it from all being repossessed by bailiffs!
My favourite episode overall was ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’. The title comes from real stage directions in the Shakespeare play The Winter’s Tale. In the episode, Morgana Robinson guest stars, playing a brilliantly awful prima donna soap opera has-been, who is in a performance of Romeo & Juliet and keeps changing the script so that it’s an ego trip for her. It turns out of course she did this in the long-axed soap she was in too. The episode also features Julie Atherton in a quite a key role. I remember her being amazing in stage musical Avenue Q as Kate Monster/Lucy The Slut.
‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ also felt ever so slightly Inside No. 9– ish with the layers of characters/actors and a plot mirroring one that happened in an in-universe soap. Also, the catch-up service which Luella and Frank watch episodes of the soap was called Inside Ward 9.
I’m no fashionista, but I loved Luella’s outfits over the whole series, I liked all the pinks and blues.
I also liked the clothes of Maggie (Emma Noakes), the assistant and daughter to magician The Great Prossini (Daniel Cerqueira), mainly Maggie’s leather jacket and her magicians outfit including a white top hat.
The episode with them in, ‘This Rough Magic’, had a particularly gruesome and bloody murder, administrated via an iron maiden. There is a subplot with a bitter rivalry between The Great Prossini and the sleazy, lecherous Amazing Antonio (Will Thorp), who pretentiously calls himself an “experimental illusionist”, which
parallels Shakespeare & Hathaway having competition with another private investigator, who to make matters worse is working for the murder victim’s widower while they are
working for The Great Prossini, who, at first, was the main suspect!
In the same episode, a couple of random highlights for me were Frank and Luella sharing a bag of Monster Munch, and having some trouble with office chairs (Luella struggles to get on top of it, and the height adjuster on Frank’s chair gives way so the height falls down).
A few characters in ‘This Rough Magic’ were named after characters in The Tempest, for example Prossini was named after Prospero.
‘Toil And Trouble’ contained lots of references to Macbeth. The murder victim was named Duncan (but in this case he is a mayor rather than a king). There was an icy Lady Macbeth figure Victoria Cathness (played by Polly Maberly). There’s also lines such as “Out, Spot, out!” (but the character is talking about their dog being in the bushes). Frank has some “Hell Broth”, the local pub’s hangover cure, which apparently tastes foul and has the appearance of a pint of mushy peas!
There are also the three witches in the form of the Hilbury Action Group (or HAGS for short), a protest group of old ladies who want to stop housing development on woodlands which are a rare breeding ground for the great crested newt. Their leader Edie (Marjorie Yates – Carol from Shameless!) has a criminal son Billy The Brick (Ciaran Griffiths – Mickey from Shameless!), and when we first meet him he’s dressed as a pirate!
A couple having an affair meet in a butterfly house, a good excuse to film some pretty butterfly footage in to the programme.
‘The Fairest Show Means Most Deceit’ features Mac Mcdonald (Captain Hollister in Red Dwarf!) as a man who thinks he’s Frank’s long-lost uncle. He spies on Frank and Luella with binoculars, while THEY are spying on a suspect using binoculars!
In the same episode there is Karl Davies – in drag! It also has time to fit in a fake compensation claim, which itself turns out to be a ruse. Yep, double bluffing a fake
Luella accidentally eats some magic mushrooms in ‘The Chameleon’s Dish’.
Chizzy Akudolu features as Sandra the former investment banker in the same episode, who is now all about yurts. She doesn’t believe in therapy, but she does believe in mumbo-jumbo hippy stuff, she likes to give people a raisin and ask them if it “has a sound”, and telling them to “look with your tongue” and “smell with your ears”.
‘Rascal Cook’ has a restaurant with a dead rat served on a plate under a cloche Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? style.
Frank and Luella clink sausage rolls as if they are clinking glasses.
There were two scenes I liked, but also showed the tonal inconsistency of the programme. After a good dramatic performance by Georgie Lord as Dita, where she’s doused the whole restaurant in petrol, is about to set fire to it and tearfully tells of the tragic circumstances that compelled her to commit her crimes… then Dita escapes, and there is a sort of car chase, but it’s via swan peddle boats! I mean, it is funny, but it’s so ridiculous, and it just feels a bit odd coming after that scene.
The final episode ‘Ill Met By Moonlight’ had:
Darren Evans (Danny Two Hats in My Mad Fat Diary!) as a “cybergeek” named Spider who lives on a houseboat.
Frank mentioning a case of “some old bat losing her garden gnome”.
‘Sail This Ship Alone’ by The Beautiful South playing at the garden party.
Luella telling Frank he “should do Strictly!” In real life, Mark Benton HAS done Strictly.
On the whole, I quite enjoyed Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators, I particularly like Mark Benton and Jo Joyner in it. The dynamic between Frank and Luella
seems similar to John and Kayleigh in Peter Kay’s Car Share, although a difference in Shakespeare & Hathaway is that there isn’t really much of a will they/won’t they thing, they seem to be just friends, which in itself is quite a refreshing as a change.
I think the show deserves a chance of a better timeslot and/or another series.