Josh Goodwin explores the Pratchett universe in Ooook! Productions’ Going Postal.
Taking us into the weird and wacky wonderland that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, director Peter Firbank’s productions of Stephen Briggs’ stage show provided theatregoers with a witty social commentary that never failed to amuse.
Admittedly, the plot was somewhat hard to follow – but this only seemed to add to the strangeness behind the wonders of Pratchett’s story world. The baffling use of multi-rolling, the strange melting windows on the flats of the set design (reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s famous work ‘The Persistence of Memory’) and the innovative tech design of James Goodall in his approach to lighting gels, helped to absorb the audience into a world disconcertingly similar to their own. One moment particularly effective was the strange absurdity of the postmaster’s, for want of a better word – inauguration. The red and purple gels in spotlights served to create an eerie mood and atmosphere, in stark contrast with the comedy of struggling to put Moist’s boot on. All in all, Firbank’s production immersed audiences into the Pratchett universe. Although it may seem somewhat complicated to newcomers of Pratchett, it was by no means inaccessible – even though you seemed, on occasion, to have lost the plot.
Dudley’s portrayal of the arrogant con artist Moist von Lipwig was well delivered, and his presentation of the character’s development was clearly and consistently traced. The contrast of his smirking countenance, combined later with his loud, gestural appeal to the audience when he affirms ‘the mail must get through’, depicted well the development of a character slowly accepting his role as the postmaster. His somewhat calm and collected manner was effective, allowing for moments of contrast in dream sequences with Dudley’s high pitched scream. Combined with the sound effects of a soundscape of people’s voices, this complemented the idea of a man toying between the realms of sanity and insanity, as the voices of the mail invaded his head. Although, at times, I wanted to see more intensity and drama from the actor, particularly in moments of high-action such as the mailroom fire. His tone seemed to remain composed when a more anxious and urgent aspect of the character could have been explored, allowing for further psychological complexity.
One of the funniest elements of the play was the contrast between Moist’s fellow helpmates Mr Groat (Rory Gee) and Stanley (Richard Sharpe). The slow moment and gruffness of voice from Gee created such moments of comedy, contrasting well with the high pitched squeakiness of Sharpe, reminiscent of Julie Walter’s famous Mrs Overall, especially as he struggled to pour the tea, only spilling it everywhere. Further, Gee’s gruffness of voice was well sustained, and particular credit goes to his emphasis on repeated lines such as ‘Pushin’ them sir’, reminding me gloriously of Ken and Kenneth from the sitcom ‘The Fast Show’: ‘Ooh! Suit you sir!’ Such comedic duo contrasted with darker moments provided by Figuerdo’s Vetinari. His voice and stage presence were very confident, allowing for the audience to clearly see his character’s power. Although, his voice did, at times, feel monotonous, and it would have been nice to have heard more menacing tones with a lower intonation. The same can be said for Hayward’s Reacher, whose countenance of scheming worked well, complemented by the lime green lighting gels. But I did, at times, want to see more of the menacing aspects of her character. One of the standout performances, however, was delivered by Bull’s Dearheart, whose confident walk and elegance when smoking complemented the character’s mysteriousness. Although her constant poise and effective deadpan expression did suit the character well, perhaps the character’s moments of frustration with Moist could have been explored more in their dialogue, allowing for nuances in her portrayal.
At times the performance did seem to lower in energy, but this was only counterbalanced by moments of glorious drama. Storey’s melodramatic portrayal of Cripslock deserves much praise. With her high gestural space and loudness of voice, Storey’s energy of the frantic journalist was infectious, reminding me so much of the hilarious Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter. The same can be said for Duckworth’s fabulous portrayal of the wizard Ridcully, with her melodramatic loudness of voice and excellent stage presence. But the energy reached its most intense with the visually stunning red lighting gels, frantically moving spotlights and smoke, conveying a burning building. Praise must be given to Goodall here for his innovative lighting in bringing this scene to life with unforgettably high energy.
Overall, Going Postal successfully combined wit and satire with the play’s dark and sinister moments – truly presenting both aspects of the Pratchett world. Although it may seem discombobulating for the first-time Pratchett theatregoer – the performance was, nonetheless, very enjoyable and truly brought the wonders of Discworld to Durham.
Going Postal is being performed again at 7:30pm on 21st February and 22nd February and a 2:30pm matinee on 22ndFebruary at the Assembly Rooms Theatre.