‘A thoroughly enjoyable theatre experience after DST’s long summer break…

‘Feet of Clay’ is a truly bizarre play, but Ooook’s curtain opener production for their annual Terry Prachett gives the script a vividness and humanity that leaves the audience unable to dismiss it as bizarre and nothing more.

The plot is too imaginative to summarise succinctly, but as best as I can, ‘Feet of Clay’ is the story of the golems – a group of dehumanised clay creatures forced to labour to no end – attempting to free themselves by creating a king. When the murderous elements of this plan are unearthed, facilitated by shadowy powers trying to poison the king, the city watch, spearheaded by Commander Vimes, tries to crack the case.

The highlight of the production is without a doubt Carrie Cheung and Anna Payne’s set and prop design, which is absolutely gorgeous. The Assembly Rooms stage is scored by a stunning rustic full stage background; I was sat at the back for the first half and front for the second, and in both cases, the extent of the detail, colour, love, and care painted into every street corner and brick bridge of the medieval town was a sight to behold. In front of this were malleable walls, desks, and cottages, with ever-changing, fully-decorated signs (some of the original logo designs for the shops were a particular highlight). However, even amongst these many wonders, the standout creations were the two golems. I saw the mask for the clay golem at Freshers Fair and was delighted to see the creature had expanded since then to a leviathan puppet, equipped with bright red eyes and powerful mechanical arms that gave the very able puppeteers with plenty of opportunity for expression. The play is worth seeing just for these models and one wonders whether anyone will be able to take them home without taking up an entire room.

Beyond the design elements of the play, many of the performers buoyantly embraced the zany, caricature-esk whimsy of their roles, supercharging an often convoluted narrative with essential energy and humanity. Among the highlights was Nick Lemieux as the stuffy, boisterous but well-intentioned Commander Vimes. Lemieux maintained a palpable characterisation throughout; his many exaggerated expressions and expert comic timing carried the narrative along pleasantly. There were moments when his diction left passages of dialogue slightly difficult to discern, but this improved as the show went on. Oggy Grieves and Emma Henderson were also highlights; they, like much of the cast, played multiple roles, but were successful in separating them using a range of physicality and vocal characterisation. Grieves’ Sesame Street-adjacent vampire was always a particular delight to see on stage. However, some of the pacing in group scenes was too slow and laborious. There were many instances where good delivery was undercut by a slow pickup of the punchline, and some larger scenes felt stale and under-rehearsed as a result. In a play so bizarre and whimsical, maintaining a jovial pace throughout felt essential, and this was sometimes lost, with too many dramatic pauses and naturalistically measured responses for such a stylistic play. Nevertheless, the majority of scenes were sufficiently energetic and absurd to keep the audience’s attention and affection.

Harkening back to the multi-rolling, Eliza Davis and Paloma Hoyos deserve commendation for how fluid and effective the many role and costume changes were throughout the play. These often rapid changes were seamless, with each character given genuine life and character no matter their stage time. That said, some of this swiftness and energy was undone by the overuse of blackouts. For such a magical, stylistic play, blackouts didn’t feel necessary for the majority of the scene changes, as realism was not necessary to maintain. Many blackouts lasted over 10 seconds and had the same music, which started to become monotonous and took me out of the action. However overall there was a lot to organise in this play – many actors were puppeteers as well as two or three characters – but there were no obvious slip-ups of timing or role, and both the directors and the performers should be given credit for this.

In summary, ‘Feet of Clay’ was a thoroughly enjoyable theatre experience after DST’s long summer break, and the vividness of the world generated by the wonderful set, prop building, and characterisation make the adventure well worth the admission.

Written by Horatio Hollaway

Image Credits: Ooook! Productions (Designed by Carrie Cheung)

‘Feet of Clay’ will continue to show at 19:30 on Friday the 27th of October, and both 14:00 and 19:30 on Saturday the 28th of October. Tickets can be found on the Durham Student Theatre website.