Discworld fans know that Stephen Briggs is a veteran at adapting Terry Pratchett’s works: Briggs and Pratchett worked together for many years, collaborating on books like The Discworld Companion, while Briggs has converted several of the Discworld novels for the stage, beginning with the Macbeth-inspired Wyrd Sisters and culminating this year with Murder in Ankh-Morpork, a detective story following the main plot of Men At Arms (with a few elements borrowed from Guards, Guards! and Feet of Clay). Intended to be ‘an affectionate and respectful mash-up’, the play certainly delivered – and many Discworld fans wish that the recent TV adaptation The Watch had taken a leaf out of Briggs’ script.
The play had a strong opener, with one of Pratchett’s best-known exchanges brought alive on the stage (two members of a secret society exchanging code phrases, before realising that one of them meant to attend another clandestine meeting a few doors down). The cast matched the story’s fast pace with energy and enthusiasm, each member fully inhabiting their roles. Anna Wilson stood out as Angua, a werewolf police officer trying not to scare off a new friend with the revelation of her wild side; Nigel Tait made a hilarious Nobby Nobbs, a character that can be hard to do justice to, thanks to his often grotesque depiction in the books; and Briggs was amusingly chilling as Lord Vetinari (whose entries on stage, accompanied by the Imperial March from Star Wars, always got a laugh from the audience).
Adapting Men At Arms for a small stage would have been a challenge – the story takes place over several locations in a large city, and follows a complex police procedural plot with Christie-esque twists and turns – but the ensemble managed it expertly, creating a show that was full of in-jokes and nods for fans while still being exciting and engaging for newbies. Special mention also needs to be given to the sound team, who brought the city alive with background effects and heightened the humour with musical stings, and never missed a cue.
This was the first performance by The Studio Theatre Club that I had attended, but if Murder in Ankh-Morpork is a measure of their work, it won’t be the last – the group gave their all, and treated us to a highly enjoyable performance that clearly gripped and delighted the audience. It’s no wonder that tickets sold out the day that the box office opened; if you want an entertaining night with a cast who clearly love what they do, keep an eye out for future productions, and be ready to book fast. By the time the curtain falls, we know the person responsible for the murder of Beano the Clown – but overall, the entire cast killed it.