Caroline Gaunt watches as Ooook productions do battle with a restrictive script.
Pratchett has an undeniably huge fanbase, but as I took my seat in a packed-out Assembly Rooms on Saturday night, I wondered if Ooook, with their production of Nightwatch, would manage to create something which appealed to the die-hard fans as well as other members of the audience for whom terms like ‘discworld’ were anathema.
I came to the conclusion that the production strikes the balance bang-on – Ooook have created a show with intrinsic fan appeal, but which, although battling nigh-on constantly with limitations in the script, is also funny enough to appeal as a stand-alone comedy.
The Stephen Briggs’ adaptation of Nightwatch does not do the production any favours – although finely judging the moments of comedy, the narrative is long, meandering, complicated and, despite the valiant efforts of the cast to the contrary, manages to avoid any sense of drama or tension, most notably in the scenes preceding the battle.
That said, the cast do an excellent job at overcoming these inherent difficulties in the script. Thomas McNulty, as the villain Carcer, is just incredible: full of a maniacal energy and charisma, and often the impetus that the show needs to stop it from dragging.
Gregory Smith, as Vimes, excels in moments of wry sarcasm or where a commanding presence is required. Where he struggles is making his character’s many moments of pathos seem genuine: I never felt his joy at the birth of his son, or his fear as he recognised that he was driving men to death.
This was a recurring issue throughout the night – many characters seemed caricatured to extremes, which worked well in the comic moments but gave little opportunity to show versatility. As Nightwatch is widely considered to be one of Pratchett’s darkest tales, it would have been nice to see a balance struck between comedic extremes and real human emotion.
I found myself wishing that director Hannah Ryan had devoted as much time to characterisation as she had to the physical elements of the play, which, incidentally, were outstanding: I have rarely seen sword fights and knife attacks as polished as those in Nightwatch. The 21-strong cast negotiate the space around them very well, never blocking each other, which I imagine is no mean feat when trying to accommodate such a large cast on such a small stage.
Technically the production is generally brilliant. Costumes were just perfect: evocative of a debauched Dickensian London and managing to add a sense of period to a play which otherwise avoids such pigeonholing. The beautifully crafted set made excellent use of the stage available, although I remain mystified by a lone flat which rested precariously against the proscenium for the duration of the show. Some bizarre, out of place sound effects, which distracted rather than contributing anything to the action on stage, were the only elements which really frustrated me.
I wanted to see if Nightwatch would manage to live up to its considerable commercial success, and I was not disappointed. It’s certainly not a perfect production, but it is a very enjoyable one, both for die-hard Pratchett fans and Pratchett virgins alike.