Before discussing this production of The Truth, I must make a confession. I am a massive, unrepentant, card-carrying Terry Pratchett fan; I therefore approached St. Hilda’s Dramatic Society’s production of Stephen Briggs’ stage adaptation with certain expectations. This goes some way towards explaining me alternating between gleeful, childish excitement as some characters materialised on stage exactly as I had always imagined, and confused disappointment as some did not. Unfortunately, my reaction was mostly the latter.
This isn’t just because, like every fan, I have my own idea of how the story should appear. Watching the production, I got the overwhelming impression of a good pool of talent spread too thin. Really bringing Pratchett’s story to life requires incredibly strong characterization, something the cast just can’t pull off for every role. The dearth of male actors shows particularly strongly; despite a heroic effort on the parts Rowena Francis and Victoria White, they never quite convince in parts that simply don’t fit. A few of the performances, however, are truly exceptional: director Dominic Hall doubling as Commander Vimes is excellent, as is Rosalind Gealy as the wonderfully prim Sacharissa Crisplock, although James Phillips as a perfectly executed zombie lawyer Mr Slant stands head and shoulders above them all. Many others, however, just fall flat as performances. When the core cast is offstage, the play simply begins to drag.
Part of this is down to the script itself; Pratchett’s work doesn’t translate brilliantly to stage, and at nigh-on three hours it requires a continuous level of energy not everyone involved can achieve. It’s made worse by the director’s failure to really address the difficulties of the script; the staging is thoroughly unoriginal, and the total lack of set (apart from the toastie machine standing in as a printing press) doesn’t help. With no real sense of dynamism or atmosphere, the more lacklustre scenes really have nothing to fall back on.
Ultimately, the whole production comes across as distinctly amateurish, though in the best possible sense of the word. Lighting cues are missed, props are lost, but the cast holds character, rectifies the problem, and the audience laughs along with them. Enthusiasm and a friendly crowd can only go so far though; for every laugh and every golden scene, there is a corresponding period of dull, tedious exposition. You can almost feel the cast rushing through these scenes, so they can get to the comedy, to the bits they really enjoy.
This is quite obviously not a recipe for a professional standard of theatre. But St. Hilda’s Drama Society almost succeeded without really trying – with all its flaws and unfinished feel, The Truth is just about watchable, and frequently enjoyable. It survives only on the strength being based on the work of Terry Pratchett: but if you are a Discworld fan, come with an open mind, and not too many high expectations. If you’re not, just try to enjoy the jokes.