Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon, Tue January 20th - Sat January 24th 2009 In 1991 Stephen Briggs was the first to adapt and stage one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. The choice for the first adaptation (16 more have followed) was Wyrd Sisters. That adaptation, subsequently published, is now used in some schools as part of the English curriculum. Stephen has now reworked the script and it premiered in the Unicorn Theatre last night to a packed house, a tribute to the enduring popularity of Briggs’s and the Studio Theatre Club’s ‘take’ on the Pratchett canon.
Audience members are mostly Discworld aficionados and need no introduction to the story, which loosely parodies Macbeth - with no insult to Shakespeare intended! A quick summary: King Verence is killed by the duke, the king’s baby who is heir to the throne, is passed on to the Wyrd Sisters for protection, then given to some thespians (joke: where’s Thespia?) and after a 15 year fast-forward spell by the witches, is sought to take over the throne from the duke.
Eerie music and a voiceover of a bickering couple, the Duke and Lady Felmet (a surreal distortion of the Macbeths v Desperate Housewives), precedes the action, which commences with the three witches, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick consulting their diaries to see ‘When shall we three meet again?’ The meddling hags are a well-contrasted trio, providing much of the laughter as they move the plot(s) forward. All deliver quality performances: Kath Leighton’s deliberately humourless, no-nonsense Granny is statuesque and commanding; Judy Leonard’s Nanny, a warm, hilariously cackling, wobble-bellied character steals the show; and Sarah Viner’s naïve, coquettish junior witch is truly engaging.
The Duke (Mathew Kirk) is seen constantly rubbing his hands to remove bloodstains. This compulsive hand rubbing culminates in bandaged hands by the end of the play. Mathew gives an assured performance as the hen-pecked husband, as does Heather Neary as the harsh, pushy, wicked Lady Felmet. Their superbly complementary costumes and almost matching auburn hair add to their presence – and the offbeat swimming-goggle style monacle on the Duke adds the perfect air of ridicule. This outwardly classy-looking duo contrast well with the apparently hapless ghost figure of King Verence (John Kirchoff), who despite his hard-to-believe reputation for cruelty is deemed popular. Tomjon, the king’s son is, meantime, being reared by theatre manager, Vitoller (a suitably luvvie performance by Stephen Briggs) and his wife (Briony Tatem). They are aided by a spirited performance from Sarah Higginbottom as Hywel the playwright of the play within a play (yes another part of the plot).
In the midst of this chaos, moves another core figure – the Fool. Jamie Crowther makes the part his own – with a nice mixture of pathetic humour and a soft centre. His scenes with Magrat work particularly well and some of his entrances and exits are marked by apt music cues: The Fool on the Hill and Send in the Clowns. To cut a multi-plot story (more than 20 scenes) short, via a vague interpretation of right of accession, we discover that the fool, rather than Tomjon, inherits the throne!
Leaving the mind-boggling, daft tale to one side, this production is entertaining if slightly too long. The large cast (too many to mention) work cohesively. The scene changes (minimal scenery) are swift, Colin James’s lighting cues are ‘spot on’ and the sound effects by Phil Evans are particularly good. There are several excellent special effects (blue crystal ball and magic flashes), the designer of which is omitted from the otherwise comprehensive programme. Costumes are well-chosen and it is clear that the director, Philip Shepherd, had a vision in mind when working with the wardrobe team.
This show sold out months ago, which means that there’s a good likelihood of someone not showing up on the night. So if you are a Discwold addict, it may be worth turning up on the door in the hope of a return ticket.