Saturday, August 18, 2012

Women's Theatre Forum: Wyrd Sisters

So many possible ways of starting this post.

For example, The Women's Theatre Forum has taken to abbreviating itself as WTF. But that's a bit fish-in-a-barrel even for me.

Or I could go with that old Wodehouse story of the faltering speaker who hears a voice from the back of the auditorium calling "Louder!", followed shortly after by another voice calling "And funnier!"

And I sort of want to pick up the whole Shakespearean theme with a header like "Get thee to a vocal coach!"

I didn't start writing these reviews to be nasty; as I've explained elsewhere, I go to see shows for fun, and I'm predisposed to enjoy them for that very reason. I want to help theatre flourish, not tear it down. And I'm a big fan of Pratchett's, and was looking forward to this.

But I am genuinely sorry to say that WTF's Wyrd Sisters was really, truly, dreadful.


I can offer a few positives: sound, lighting and costumes are fine (though, what is it lately with actors wearing their own suit trousers?), for a low-budget effort the little set works well, and there are some quite nifty effects using a video screen and some magic tricks (notably the one involving a giant image of a dagger that becomes a small real dagger).

Elaine Noon as Granny Weatherwax is sound as always; Janine O'Dwyer might have been born to play Nanny Ogg in the best performance I've seen from her yet; Michael Miller mops up the competition in several small roles; Jonathan Sharp is good as Verence the Fool (despite the half-smart programme bio). Ralphie Kabo as Tomjon seemed decent, but was wasted in the far recesses of late Act 2.  Tracy Thomas (Magrat) has potential, but would really benefit from some vocal coaching to even out her tone and keep that rising inflection in check.

Robbie Mathews, in several supporting roles, knew what he was doing, though I wasn't sure it was a wise move when he ventured on at curtain call to play "The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered at All" (with guitar inexplicably depending from a strap proclaiming "Crime Scene"). Because in some way this almost defined the fundamental problem with this production.

 The Hedgehog Song is a famous filk, an in-joke for Pratchett fans, because Pratchett fans were the target audience. Hell, in costume Mathews even looked like Pratchett. But it was very clear that many of the rest of the cast had no understanding of either Pratchett or of this particular play. They mishandled lines, and sometimes forgot them, buried the jokes, missed opportunities and generally bungled most of the script without mercy. It was like seeing Spamalot produced by people who had never seen or heard of Monty Python. And when you are deliberately pitching your show at Pratchett fans, that's unforgiveable.

Even then, a cast of Pratchett virgins ought not to be fatal under decent direction, but it was painfully clear that this production did not have that. My attention has been drawn to this post from WTF on their own Wyrd Sisters Facebook page, which says "Some of the actors got their own jokes for the first time last night when the audience laughed at them!"

That is not cute and amusing, that is absolutely disgraceful.  You're charging the public money to see this show, and you think it's funny that your actors don't understand their lines?  And you sent them out there knowing they didn't understand their lines? It didn't occur to anyone involved that it might help to explain them?

I don't blame the cast. There was a lot of really, really bad acting, but a fair bit of it was from people very new to acting. It was clear that several of the cast didn't fully understand what the words they were saying meant, and while perhaps they should have gone and asked someone, this is frankly something that ought easily to be cured by adequate direction, especially for a couple of major characters (not necessarily that new to acting) who mumbled, forgot lines, emphasised the wrong words, paused in the wrong places and were so stilted and self-conscious in their overall delivery that it was painful to watch them (or sometimes, to try to hear them).  And the impression left is that either the director did not understand the play (unlikely as I gather that it's the director's own adaptation), or understood it but didn't care to share that with the cast.

Add to that lots of lengthy blackouts for scene changes that usually involved no actual changes of scenery, and this production gave the overall impression that almost no direction was provided beyond some basic blocking.

The original book by Terry Pratchett is a clever meta-analysis of the motives of story-tellers, and a very funny satire on Shakespearian tropes (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and Richard III all get more than a nod).  I recommend you stay home and read it.

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