Thank heavens Mort is showing in 8th Week of Hilary: the term of sickness, stress and freak exams for an unlucky few. Well – thank death, shall we say…Terry Pratchett’s satirical tomfoolery translates brilliantly onto the stage, drawing the audience into his pantomimic world of medieval slime and weak gags.
Mort (Rob Hemmens) becomes Death’s (James Utechin) hapless apprentice. Learning the ways of the grim reaper’s trade, it turns out the tyke’s got conscience, as he chooses to save the doomed Princess Keli (Harriet Tolkein) with the help of a wizard, Cutwell (Chris Carter). With reality now gone awry and Death on holiday, Mort and Death’s adopted daughter (Kate Morris) have to put the world to rights, even in the face of Death’s meddlesome dogsbody, Albert (Liam Welton).
Pratchett has all the ingredients for a children’s bedtime story: an unlikely hero, a princess and a quest; there’s even a friendly narrator, whose dulcet tones form a distraction for the scene changes. But director Rhys Jones has ensured to keep the adults from yawning. Besides controlling a sterling cast of extras, who double as the minor characters (Stewart Pringle, Rebecca Baron, Thomas Woolley, Rob Morgan, Vicki Turk and Tom Richards), Jones has managed to create the unique aesthetic quality of ‘The Discworld’. The OFS looks like something out of The Wizard of Oz, through the lens of Tim Burton.
Far more sophisticated than any set-piece to be found in Harry Potter, the stage is used to its full potential, with an impressive lighting design and switches between location smoothly manoeuvred by the actors themselves. The dark hues of the set are wonderfully contrasted with flashy costumes, not least Hemmens’ head of bright red hair.
It’s almost as stark as the contrast between Death and the way in which the play mocks it.
Abstract doom is personified by a terrifying skeletal cadaver, dressed in a hooded cloak and boasting an echoing voice (a chilling effect –especially when the microphone picks up the dialogue of the other actors). However, Death is so wearisome of his position that he encourages sympathetic coos from the audience.
As a comedy, the jokes are witty rather than hilarious (“It would be a bloody stupid world if people got killed and didn’t die!”), but then this is Pratchett’s way. Fans of the books will revel in the play’s faithfulness to the text, but anyone who begrudges his style might find the 120 minutes a strain. However you react to it, Oxford deserves a bit of silliness after the past eight weeks – wall-related injuries and all. Life’s too short to be without it.
By Frankie Parham
7:30pm Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat