first night

Carpe Jugulum

Tania Chakraborti sees witches take on vampires in the latest show from Ooook! Productions.

Unlike with most DST performances, if you’re heading to an Ooook! Productions’ show, you’ll be sure to know exactly what you’re paying to get. In its essence a story about witches versus vampires, Carpe Jugulum is another golden notch on their Terry Pratchett belt.

There is much to commend in this show. The entire production team should be applauded for some truly well-executed set design, transporting the audience to Discworld with flair. Talor Hanson and Kitty Briggs made some directorial decisions which really paid off, from their exciting manipulation of Pratchett’s powerful narration to their simple use of levels and mostly successful blocking. I personally loved little moments such as the opening of the play, effectively mirrored just before the interval, when the audience were faced with the statures of the sinister De Magpyr family. Lighting aided the process wonderfully. To this end the Lighting Designer Peter Noble and Lighting Operator Marie-Louise Wohrle deserve special credit. Lighting was central to this play and such changes were slick and professional throughout.

Out of a grand cast of over 35 talented individuals, it seems an injustice to have to single out performances. However, Dan Hodgkinson (Count De Magpyr) deserves a very special mention; the way he balanced evil with witty genius is exactly what epitomises a Pratchett villain. He created a fabulous precedent for the other vampires to follow. As always, Zac Tiplady (Vlad) was an excellent casting choice, giving a convincing performance and making the audience cackle throughout. Uday Duggal as the tradition-loving and limping Igor, with his expert comedic timing and characterisation, was also a prime example of why people come to see Ooook! time and time again. Further mention must go to Harry Twining, who captured the bumbling and eccentric essence of The Quite Reverend Mightily Oats with professional ease. Both his and Alex Hannant’s (Nanny Ogg) comic timing cannot be faulted. Lastly, first year and theatrical debuting Katherine Briggs should be proud of her performance as Granny Weatherwax—I hope to see her in more productions in the future. However, the real star of the show was, without a doubt, Ember the dog (Scraps), whose acting debut was the highlight of everyone’s evening. Yes, she was a natural distraction due to her overwhelming adorableness. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the characters on stage thrived from her presence and it only added to the comedy—credit to the Directors for making such a bold decision!

That is not at all to say that the production was perfect. Diction and inaudibility proved a major problem for many actors, namely Alex Hall (The Expert) and Hannant. Though both displayed a flair for comic timing, some potentially fantastic moments were simply lost due to this. The principle character of Layla Chowdhury (Agnes Nitt) did an admirable job of driving the plot along with her bountiful energy. However, she should be careful not to rush lines in a hurry as opportunities for humour were sometimes missed. Personally, I would like to have seen more made out of the connection between her and her other-self Perdita (Ben George), as when they succeeded in their interactions they did so to great effect.

Perhaps it was first night nerves, but there was additionally a slight lack of conviction displayed generally by the cast in certain less polished scenes. The show was hilarious from start to finish; they should be confident in this and embrace the absurdity more in upcoming performances. The one major issue with the play, though, was its duration—why was it so long? The interval saw some audience members check their watches in disbelief and this was a shame. The production would have benefitted from axing some scenes in favour of honing in on the truly funny moments, and this would also have prevented excessive scene changes. Luckily, the content of the play was so tummy-achingly hilarious that my bah-humbug reviewer-self did not seem to care overly much.

Terry Pratchett isn’t for everyone. But if you are not a Pratchett fan then don’t complain—Ooook! achieves exactly what it sets out to do. If you want a night of pure fun and want to see what a well-oiled production looks like, then Carpe Jugulum is definitely the show for you.

17 February 2017

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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