first night

Small Gods

Fergus Leathem enters the Discworld to review OOOOK! Productions' adaptation of Terry Pratchett's 'Small Gods'

Having seen last year’s Ooook! Productions’ show, Guards, Guards!, and thoroughly enjoyed its off-beat charm, it was with great relish that I trotted down to the Assembly Rooms to the ‘World Premiere’ of Small Gods, expecting little more than a small gaggle of people waiting for the curtain to go up on opening night. How wrong I was. I was not only met by a queue that snaked out the door and across the Bailey, but also by all the paraphernalia one would associate with a Hollywood premiere: red carpet, spotlights and gentlemen wandering around in black tie.

After this initial spectacle, it was with some excitement that the large audience waited for the show to begin, watched over by the giant turtle carrying the Discworld, whose existence (or non-existence) is part of what all the fuss is about.
Given that this production, unlike previous Ooook! offerings, is an adaptation by director Ben Saunders, rather than an already adapted piece, the script as a whole was relatively well crafted. Staying true to the irreverent style of the novels, it was laced with moments of genuine humour, both verbal and physical, and was so reference-heavy it could have been a Family Guy episode; highlights included the excellent use of the awkward turtle and a wonderfully worked nod to Captain Oates.
It is, however, perhaps in its dedication to Pratchett’s original work that the piece falls down. Coming in at just over three hours long, it is a hard slog at times, and it would benefit from cutting perhaps an hour, both for length and for a less intricate plot, which was at times a tad confusing for those largely uninitiated in the works of Pratchett. In addition, the Stoppardian musings on the nature of Man and Gods that interspersed the second act, whilst at first interesting, ended by feeling somewhat patronising. The underlying messages were strong enough for the audience to grasp without the need to pause every ten minutes for a monologue on the relationship of God and Man.

Given the recent hoo-ha about the same old performers appearing time and again on the Durham stage, it was nice to see a cast that largely debunks that myth giving altogether decent performances. Whilst a little rough around the edges, the clear enthusiasm of the ensemble largely excused any slight errors made during the performance.

The leading men gave generally strong performances, with Oli Hilbourne as Brutha conveying his journey from unenlightened Brother to potential saviour with confidence, playing off his various partners in crime with skill. Robert Smith’s Vorbis oozed menace, and with his characteristic arm swishing prayers and dead eyed stare, he conveyed both a convincing and thoroughly bald religious zealot.
Special mention must also go to Murray Adcock’s sexual frustrated monk, Nick Jennings forever sweeping Lu-Tze, and the slapstick pairing of Evan Jones and Hywel Thomas as philosophers extraordinaire Didactylos and Urn, whilst Michael Kasimatis gave a booming, if somewhat small, performance as the Tyrant. And of course, no Pratchett play would be complete without a quick cameo from Death.
Perhaps the real star of the show however is Om, voiced by Freddie Herman but played entirely by a tortoise on wheels. Whilst it sounds, and was at times, a bit ropey, the tortoise was used to excellent comic effect.

That’s not to say that there weren’t some moments of weakness. Lines were dropped, entrances were missed and the set and costumes were admittedly a bit school nativity-esque. But that is not fundamentally what this was all about. It’s not the RSC doing Hamlet, and it’s not trying to be. Whilst a little rough around the edges, Oook!’s latest offering is fundamentally enjoyable, witty and, at the end of the day, all going to a great cause.

18 February 2011

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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