Having never read any of Terry Pratchett’s books, I was aware that his Discworld series had a huge fan base, but could never quite see why. I had somehow formed an impression over the years of an unintelligible, unending series of books which could only ever be understood by the most avid of fans. Hence you can understand my trepidation on walking into the Assembly Rooms for Ooook! Productions adaptation of Pratchett’s Night Watch. However, I was to be pleasantly surprised.
The play, set in the city of Ankh-Morpork, follows Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Night Watch (Gregory Smith) as he chases the murderously insane Carcer Dun (Tom McNulty) back through time to shortly before a revolution shakes the city. Both Vimes and Carcer assume new roles within this historic paradigm and take separate sides in the city’s struggle.
While this seems fairly simple to follow, without the synopsis within the programme I would have been lost about fifteen minutes in. The play, which ran at around 2 hours 45 minutes with an interval, was reminiscent of a whirlwind: with names of characters and places all becoming slightly muddled together in the maelstrom of such an epic storyline. Ambition on this scale had its drawbacks, but within seconds of the curtains opening the laughter left me in no doubt that had I known the book better I would have had none of these problems.
With 48 roles divided between 21 cast members, there was a steady stream of cameo roles and comic exchanges between different groups. Although this left the audience with a never-ending supply of fresh stimuli, there were times when it was unclear, despite costume changes, which character certain actors were attempting to portray in each scene. The entire cast showed a great deal of enthusiasm for their roles, and there was no shortage of energy on stage, particularly in the background. The ever-present Gregory Smith, as Commander Vimes, linked the play together admirably, with the character’s cynicism and wit imbuing the plot with a continuity and familiarity which was reassuring amongst such a fast moving plot.
Tom McNulty was suitably maniacal, as Carcer, and fusing precise diction with a straight-jacket giggle which made each of his sojourns on stage equally exhilarating and chilling. Other highlights included Olivia Fox, whose endearing rendition of a Young Nobby Nobbs was vaguely reminiscent of the Artful Dodger, and Kalil Copley, whose intermittent cries of “neerrrr” as the aptly named Snouty gave the character a gravitas and stage present that belied his small number of words. Special mention must also go to Murray Adcock, whose dedication to the play led to him shaving his head for the role of the History Monk Lu-Tze, with sponsorship going to the Orangutan Foundation.
Where on occasion certain scenes may have lacked style, this was certainly more than made up for in substance. When there were mistakes, one memorable moment being the consumption of a “unique” brand of particularly dry pie that left the lead with his mouth full for a minute or two, the cast’s unassuming humour and relaxed attitude made the experience far from embarrassing. Likewise, the sword fighting that pervaded the whole play was enthusiastic and well-choreographed. Indeed at times it almost resembled school children fighting with sticks at playtime, an effect which rather than undermining the action, instead emphasised the absurd nature of the script.
The technical side of the production was admirable too. The set was beautifully painted and each scene change was, on the whole, swift and accurate. Soundscapes during key scenes, and sensible lighting kept the atmosphere appropriate and the action focussed.
As a stand-alone story, I’m not really sure Night Watch works: there are too many characters in too short a time to develop an attachment to any of them. But as an adaptation of a popular book and as an evening of entertainment, Ooook! have certainly succeeded. If you are a Discworld fan, then this is a must-see. If you’re not then I would still urge you to go. Both cast and crew have created a production that is not only unassuming and fun, but any profits made from the show go to the Orangutan Foundation, so you can sit and laugh knowing your money is going to a good cause!
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17 February 2012