Mort

2/5 I really wanted this play to be good. Terry Prachett’s novel is funny, clever, and has real narrative force. ‘Death’ is a fine comic literary creation: a kind of grim reaper, at once confused by and curious about the humans whose lives he takes. But this production falls flat. The costumes are sumptuous, the props extravagant, but the production seemed to be all icing and no cake.  Death, complete with skeletal mask and flaming sword, is well acted, but the acting is good only because a detached deadpan is what is called for. The other actors seem to have been infected with the same unwillingness to express, especially Rob Hemmens as Mort, who gives a performance that is startlingly bland. Even his confusion seems half-hearted. Kate Morris as Ysabelle tries to break the cloying atmosphere by turning her character into a pre-pubescent, babyish figure, but, as she says, her character is stuck in time at age eighteen, not age seven. There is none of the insecurity and arrogance of the confused and scared girl being confronted with a boy she likes for the first time. She just pouts.Albert, in Liam Welton’s portrayal, also falls flat, as Welton seems to believe that the only defining feature of the progress of age upon a man is that his back becomes ridiculously stooped and his right arm hangs limp. Chris Carter’s Cutwell I enjoyed more, as he captures the blustering wizard excellently, right from his bored exhaustion to the quips hiding his terrified confusion. Harriet Tolkein’s Princess Keli is a fine picture of supremely regal arrogance, yet she too succumbs to a childish petulance when she reaches for suppressed fear at the realization that she is dead, but just hasn’t stopped moving. The director, Rhys Jones, appears to have decided on a speed at the outset, a speed he is absolutely determined to maintain, come hell, high- water, or the script. This means that the moments of comedy, which really need to be treated with delicate emphasis, are thrown away. With exception of a few scenes, such as the name-calling between Ysabelle and Mort, which is unpleasantly infantile anyway, and the richly comic cameo of Tom Richards as a very plummy, very old, and very oblivious High Priest, the play lacks spirit, the impressive setting masking a Mort that is, to all intents and purposes, dead.By Tim Sherwin