Maskerade narrowly avoids making a hatchet job of Pratchett.
In principio erat Turturem et Turtur erat apud Deum et Deus erat Turturem.
In the beginning was the turtle. Except there wasn’t. One of the dangers of trying to adapt the complex comic universe of Discworld is that Pratchett’s unique comic style is a tricky thing to replicate in a play – and the difficulty shows in this production.
After being roped in last minute, and forcibly ejected from my seat mere moments before the curtain rose on last night’s production, it’s safe to stay I wasn’t exactly settled before the show commenced; and this confused start was neatly replicated in much of the play’s direction.
The play follows Granny Weatherwax (Madeline Forrester) and Nanny Ogg (Mandi Catell) – who function as an octogenarian comedy duo, riding high off the royalties from an X-rated cookery book – in their bid to persuade fellow Lancre witch Agnes (Kate Cattermole) to ditch her new life as Perdita at the opera for a life of witchcraft. And so we and the witches are drawn into an opera-based, crime-solving mission which is as randomly bizarre and surreally appealing as it sounds.
The first half is slow and quite stilted and despite my friend sat next to me (who’d read the original book) providing a helpful and wonderfully lucid commentary, the erratic scene jumps – reminiscent of a kangaroo on a pogo stick with a bad case of the hiccups – left the plot (and me) feeling rather confused. All I know is that it involves witches, a slow coach journey and a haunted opera house (egads!) that lead somewhat randomly into the second half of the performance.
Whilst the Weatherwax and Ogg scenes in the first half feel as directionless and aimless as their wanderings around Discworld itself, the second half is the play’s saving grace, with a unity of setting finally lending narrative focus to the previously peripatetic storyline. From here on in the play picked up, with the plot and relationships becoming clearer, and after a few awkward minutes of silence in the first half, the actors really found their feet, and (much to the relief of all watching and the sequinned prompter) their lines.
The opera scenes were a highlight of the play, and Tony Broscomb’s intricate set is a further high point though more use could have been made of box 8, considering its central role in the plot. The projected interludes were imaginative and worked as effective scene transitions though more work was needed with other scene transitions so that the audience did not regularly see crew members moving set, which often ruined the atmosphere.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has a number of A-listers – Death, Luggage, Sam Vines – and Esme Weatherwax is among them. Alas, Forrester fails to fully portray her typically effulgent zest and vixenly vivacity. Guy Marshall was excellent as the loveable Walter Plinge, and further credit must go to Jonathan Totman who, though he had a small role, shone in his cameo appearances as Dr Underschaft and Greebo, particularly the latter.
In a play of pairs, Perdita (Kate Cattermole) and Christine (Sarah Middle) were the most dynamic duo, with Middle expertly portraying the grating and annoying Christine. The acting all round was excellent but limited by the direction. With the exception of the chandelier which was used effectively to engage the audience, the direction appeared limited, emphasised by the fact the actors didn’t seem to know where to walk onstage.
Considering the play was directed by a former president of the Footlights, and considering the success of previous Discworld productions put on by Bawds, I had high expectations going into the play. Whilst the production failed to live up to these hopes, possibly in part due to understandable first night hiccups, the play was still amusing.
There are certainly worse ways to spend a Tuesday evening.