Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

Wyrd Sisters
by  Terry Pratchett, adapted by Stephen Briggs   directed by Barry Brown

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, April 2013

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A Review of Wyrd Sisters
by Guy Holmes

Blending a magical mix of madness & Macbeth, Terry Pratchett's tale of a kingdom stolen then reunited with its true heir is,in his own words, 'art, holding a mirror up to life. That's why everything is exactly the wrong way round'.

Set in the mysterious Discworld, the wyrd sisters strive against divers alarums and excursions to defeat an evil king and queen, whilst confronting a band of dim-witted soldiers, strolling players, and the ghost of the previous king. Stephen Briggs adaptation for the stage brings all of these ingredients together in a script that owes more to Monty Python than it does to Shakespeare. With the merest nods to Hamlet and the Scottish play, the script is more loonery than literature. It is fun, very entertaining, with some of the wonderfully descriptive text from the original novel, and hilarious one-liners. Whilst it handles some mature themes, it does so with the warmth and security of a bed time fairy tale. It is not so much a serious play as it is pantomime meets prestidigitation meets patricide.

To make sense of such nonsense takes a director of unique talent, bold vision, a deep understanding of comedy, and a style unhampered by convention. Barry Brown is just such a chap and he hasn't held back. In this production he spills forth the full cauldron of his creativity to great effect. It is a visual treat. The steam punk sets including a cat's cradle of copper & brass pipes, enough torture paraphernalia to keep the whole of Westminster permanently in recess, and ships gear from the Titanic's bigger sister, decorate the stage like art installations. But he doesn't stop there. Playing on the theme of a play within a play, a second stage, complete with proscenium, sits centre stage, where it focuses the attention of the audience and somehow creates even greater intimacy. Add to this the profusion of his own artistic creations, and the stylish
film sequences that are woven into the action, and stage and screen blend together to deliver a backdrop that is spellbinding.

In making all of this work, his backstage team deserve special recognition for their magnificent efforts. Barney Brown's music, film and sound design is magical. These witty & original compositions set the style of the play without dominating and are wonderful to watch. Tony Broscomb's set is technical wizardry of the highest order. Combining truck sets with the second proscenium is impressive, but my favourite is the exploding door. Every play should have one. Ben McKeegan, technical director, has somehow joined all of these elements together. No mean feat.

The play is very episodic. Scenes are often just small sketches lasting only a few minutes before they move on to the next with revue-like speed. There is often little time to establish a scene before it is over.  Such a hectic play demands strong characterisation, pace, clarity and energy to do it justice. The cast set out with conviction and commitment to deliver just this, the most experienced and talented of them leading the way. That many of the actors largely pulled it off, first night wobbles aside, is testament to their hard work and direction.

Out of a very capable cast of many, special mention must be reserved for the wyrd sisters. Take a bonnet of big hair, a ladle of clown white, some cackling, writhing, and expulsion from the Lancre WI, and you have a taste of what it takes to be a witch in Discworld. Granny Weatherwax (Madeleine Forrester) was indefatigable as the crabbiest in the coven. Leading from the front, she set the pace with her energy, masterly characterisation, and sheer all-round tetchy witchy-ness. The tattooed and curvy Nanny Ogg (Mandi Cattell plus a profusion of prosthetic padding) was a formidable broom-fellow, just the sort of lass you'd want to have watching your back in a bareknuckle fight, and the naiave ingenue witchlet Magrat Garlick (Fran Burgoyne) 'with eyes like two flies in a sugar bowl', was excellent, full of feeling and expression. These were three very strong performances and set the standard high for the rest of the cast to follow.

Duke Felmet was ably played with madness, misery, and pruritus by Sean Baker. His descent into lunacy and oblivion, as guilt and a tumble from the battlements took their toll, were nicely done. His wife, the sadistic, threatening, and dominating Christine Stewart captured the essence of Lady Felmet right down to her riding crop, which she handled with aplomb. Far more of a witch than any of the wyrd sisters, this too was a strong performance.  

As for the rest of the cast, fine cameo performances were turned in by Sally Marsh (unrecognisable as a demon emerging from a crucible), Colin Lawrence (Mr Vitoller in the style of James Robertson Justice), Peter Simmons (the hirsute and former King), and Hugh Mellor (The Chamberlain and Divers Alarum Sounder). The experience and ability of these actors made a contribution to the production that was far greater than the sum of their small, albeit perfectly formed, parts. Mike Milne deserves special mention for best comic timing of the night, Steven Kitson (The Fool) for impressive bladder control, and Emma Miles (Hwel Shakespeare) who although diminutive in stature was large in presence.

The fantastic steam punk costumes of Lyn Quelch & Margaret Thorp were excellent, as were the make-up designs of Hannah Curtis. Costumes and make-up worked in harmony, complementing the play perfectly. There were many more people both on stage and behind the scenes who worked hard to make this play happen. Whilst it isn't possible to mention each of them individually, their commitment and contribution are recognised and acknowledged.  

Barry Brown's production is original, imaginative, witty, stylish, visually stunning, and very silly. With so much of the director emotionally
invested in it, it is not so much an oeuvre as a labour of love.t is unique and thoroughly deserves to succeed.