first night

Monstrous Regiment

Sam McKay tells us all to enlist in Ooook's 'Monstrous Regiment'

 

Ooook! Productions performance of Monstrous Regiment marked their annual return to the genius of Sir Terry Pratchett, and they did not fail to transfer his wild wit and sly social commentary to the stage. As the show sprang into action, characters that were bold, grotesque, animate, and endowed with a brilliantly incongruous sense of coherent absurdity demanded the audience to listen to the story that was being told. Forster’s Igor immediately caught the attention and affection of the audience, her complete command of the character was both admirable and skillful. In these opening scenes, the overall aesthetic proved to be coordinated and cohesive; the costume, make up, set, props, lighting etc. all worked in harmony and permitted the audience an immediate understanding of the world we were in.

A concern that arose fairly early in the play, and continued at various points, was the use of lengthy blackouts. Music was used to bridge two scenes initially, but at some point this convention was dropped. Blackouts are an actor’s best friend, but an audience’s worst nightmare. They were simply too long, and with this style of performance scene transitions could have been more creative and fluid. However, Nower’s lighting design and execution of that design was stunning. His masterful understanding of the demands of the play and space were certainly evident.

Bicarregui’s Corporal Strappi proved yet another hilariously crafted character, lively and bold. Just as the set and use of the space started to become a little too familiar, the entire thing transformed and we were woken up before we had even considered we might drift off. We were completely engrossed still in the characters at play, particularly Igor, Carborundum, and Maladict. Simpson was refreshingly present and maintained the spirit and tone of the reformed vampire. His performance was first-rate.

Of course, Coxon’s Perks was fantastically delivered. She skillfully guided us through the story, with a striking vocal quality. Her performance was robust and she seemed utterly engaged in the action. The direction was clearly well structured, with strong images crafted for us and a refreshing use of picturisation. The stage felt well balanced, the space used well, and the directors clearly have a wonderful ability for fashioning comedic action and speech. The attention to detail was also noted, from an entertaining mobile phone announcement, to lanterns with actual flickering flames.

Another four members of the regiment played by Murphy, Brown, Weinstock and Warmington felt invisible for a hefty proportion of the first act, which is partly due to the fact that their own stories are not picked up until later in the text. There were also times where the actors could have been more engaged in the action and asserted their presence, however, when it was their turn to be actively involved they did not fail to deliver. Murphy in particular provided a magnificently understated performance of her character Wazzer, that later developed a numinous and quietly powerful quality. The others too provided moments of wit and entertainment.

Later in the performance, the use of the space did become a little dull, particularly as often the depth would be removed or ignored, and we found ourselves visited by the same formations. This was perhaps more the case in the opening half of the second act, which was a little bumpy in places, however, the hilarity and considered use of the space quickly returned.  There were some fantastic set designs in this half; we particularly enjoyed the forest. The castle was ambitious, and used to its full potential. The only problematic thing here was the aesthetic of the thing, it gestured towards a village pantomime. That is not to say that it looked amateur, far from it; however it did jar with the coherent, cohesive and considered aesthetic and style that had been so successful for the rest of the play.

Rainford was a delight throughout the production, Daphne was elegant and alluring. Wright, Greetham and Hathaway should also be congratulated on strong performances, with moments of comedic skill and strong characters again. In the scenes towards the end of the play, where it feels as though the story is wrapping up and characters discuss the future or the lives of others, actors shouldn’t be afraid of engaging in a little story telling. Although the play is nearing its end, it might help the pace to retain the playfulness from before.

Monstrous Regiment attempted to combine comedy, earnest sentiment, social commentary and at times, dark fable. Bringing together the grotesque, the pantomimic, the rough and the surreal, it was successful. The two stars of this show are the directors, Eddleston and Elliot-Ripley, who had clearly made thoughtful artistic decisions about the piece, and maintained a secure sense of style. They were very successful in their goals for this play, and should be proud of the work. If there are still tickets left to see this masterpiece, I would heartily recommend it. 

20 February 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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