When Martin's best friend is murdered by a shadowy assassin, he discovers he's at the heart of a 400-year-old conspiracy involving the RSC, Shakespeare's most nefarious villain and an idea that could mean the end of all thought, feeling and being on this humble globe. The titular ‘conspiracy' is an inspired twist on our 21st Century obsession with repurposing cultural artifacts, a tonal mashup of Douglas Adams, The Da Vinci Code and Shakespeare in Love with the Bard's greatest hits.Packed full of in-jokes and linguistic loop-de-loops, Andrew Shepherd's script is an accomplished and confident version of an otherwise tired and meandering genre. It's a meta-theatrical cat's cradle replotting stale academic debates as noir-ish intrigues and transforming schoolboy humour into shocking revelations that would make Dan Brown wet himself at the audacity of it all.In allowing us the pulpy pleasures of Dan Brown, the writing also stumbles into many of the same pitfalls. Heavy exposition and plot focus are at the expense of credibility and character. The U-turn in Martin's loyalties after the intermission is too much like the old Batman serials: we thought they couldn't escape but then it turns out that they had bullet-proof shoes on and suddenly the ropes fall off.Conspiracy narratives lend themselves far more easily to the screen than to the stage. Although the script walks the line between farce and pantomime with charming impunity, Mr Shepherd has more often written a screenplay rather than a stage-play and the text does suffer because of it (although I do believe that, successfully adapted, this could be an excellent British film).The performances of the night are unquestionably Jack Baldwin's Benedick and Libby Evans' Beatrice. Recalling Burton and Taylor at their bickering best, they're captivating, hilarious and incredibly sexy. Their comic timing is impeccable and, in a play that rarely need trouble itself with characterisation, they manage to lend some real depth of feeling to their relationship. If a Taming of the Shrew comes along starring these two expect a full house.The rest of the cast throw themselves into this panto-cum-film with gusto. Andrew London's Martin is an Arthur Dent type whose girly squeals are more likely to save his bacon than any bravado that might be lurking. A particular high-point is his training montage in which he switches at a finger snap from Petruchio to Hamlet to Othello to Benedict to Henry V.Appropriately, wordsmith Andrew Shepherd takes on Iago by combining the demented theatricality of the Joker with the methodical and chilling manipulation of Hannibal Lecter. He's magnetic throughout and proves that, even as a panto villain, Iago's still the baddest bad guy of them all.The script is partly to blame for the other actor's poor performances, but mostly I look to Chris Hislop's direction. James Law's Oberon is simply too bland, Joanne Gale's Puck too blase, the Witches too unfocused for us to believe that the fate of all that is and ever will be is at stake here. The texture of the piece is uneven throughout. Although some beats crackle, spit and glow, many more stagnate. The music cues (used chiefly as filmic score) often interrupted the flow of a sequence unnecessarily, like being bothered by a mobile phone three rows in front of you or a particularly tenacious fly.It's not so long ago that a certain young man's toying with Shakespeare's minor characters began an incandescent career... While The Shakespeare Conspiracy lacks the refinement and pathos of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead it makes up for it by being exceptionally entertaining. It's the basics that let this production down: actors waiting for cues, jokes masquerading as characters, plot that tells rather than shows, music that dictates response rather than heightening mood. But these criticisms don't diminish the fact that I really did enjoy the play and everyone who was part of it – cast, crew and audience - had a tremendous amount of fun. As it stands, it may not launch Mr Shepherd as the next Tom Stoppard, but it's an interesting start. P.S. A special congratulations to Matt Gardner's fight direction: whirling swords, the clash of steel and did I notice some Errol Flynn in there? Get thee to professional production immediately!