Terry Pratchett's Night Watch

Thu 16th – Sat 18th February 2012

reviews

Stacy Ooi

at 18:07 on 17th Feb 2012

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A hush falls over the theatre as the lights fade, leaving one lone patch of light on the stage. A monk appears with a broom, gradually sweeping his way into the light. He stops, straightens his back, and proclaims himself a history monk – one who oversees the flow of time and history, occasionally tweaking it. Time-travelling, he hints, is in order.

Thus begins Night Watch, a play based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel. The city is Ankh-Morpork, and Commander Sir Samuel Vimes heads its team of watchmen. When serial murderer Carcer Dun gleefully kills some of these watchmen, an angry Vimes confronts him. Carcer is cat-like in his nine lives, always managing to produce another knife even after he seems to have surrendered them all. Unfortunately, their showdown also takes place in a library of magical books, i.e. where normal laws of time and space don’t apply. It’s a place where portals to parallel universes rudely open up and drag you into a past that’s sort of like the one you grew up in except not quite. Thus Vimes and Carcer are transported thirty years into the past to be caught up in an impending revolution against the city Patrician, Lord Winder.

Vimes starts out as a somewhat unconvincing character; when he confronts Carcer about the dead watchmen you don’t really sense conviction behind his words. When the history monk tries to explain to Vimes that quantum interference just messed up his life, and that to preserve his future as he knows it he has to capture Carcer before going back, his reactions aren’t particularly believable – the abrupt shifts between heartbroken ‘I just want to go home’ and angry ‘you can’t do this to me!’ are slightly jarring. Yet he eventually eases his way into the role, becoming increasingly charismatic and likeable, such that you forgive him for the occasional slip-ups in his lines. Bluffing his way onto the city watchmen force and obtaining the position of sergeant, he both mentors the young recruits and attempts to restore discipline in the way the nightwatch functions.

Carcer is an absurdly refreshing ball of energy. He only appears a few times here and there, which heightens the impact of his presence and prevents us feeling smothered by that sheer insanity. Being completely batshit crazy, he is genuinely delighted by the idea of killing people, like how a little kid approaches a cool videogame. It’s almost endearing to see him get all huffy about being handcuffed. Yet there is an unpredictability to him – the teasing, childlike demeanour can abruptly be replaced by a cold, analytical ruthlessness or explosive, uncontrolled anger. You never really know what he’ll be like, such that his sudden turns of mood leave you genuinely surprised or scared.

The other characters are, generally, wonderfully eccentric. Captain Swing heads the Unmentionables, a secret police force that tortures suspected revolutionaries under the orders of the city Patrician. Captain Swing has a strange way of talking, to put it mildly, like no one taught him where to put commas in his sentences. He is a rather pretentious character, though, so perhaps he just does it for the attention. Therefore he pauses in weird places for pretty long periods of time. It was funny the first few times but got tiring and predictable after a while. Nonetheless, he had a certain presence on stage. Sinister and effete, his delicate manners were rather chilling once you realized he’d ordered the torture of so many people.

The revolutionaries themselves were genuinely fun to watch. Vimes, by then, has deserted to join the revolution. By this point he’s become a compelling driving force in the play – the seasoned veteran whom all the young recruits trust and look to for instruction. He helps coordinate the revolutionary activity, putting grannies and housewives on the barricades to provide policemen with a piece of their minds – effective non-violent resistance indeed. The other revolutionaries have fun sorting out how to go about rebelling. The leader Reg Shoe tries to explain communism to the cobbler – ‘Everyone will own everything, and everyone will be better off for it.’ ‘But… but who will pay for my shoes?’ The group camaraderie was contagious, the atmosphere was full of adrenaline.

The seriousness of the revolution was balanced out with, sometimes overshadowed by, humour and irreverence. (When characters die you never really grieve over them for long.)

On the whole, Night Watch was an absorbing and entertaining play. Watch it if you’re in need of laughter, a warm fuzzy feeling in your stomach, and lots of absurd fantasy to enliven a cold evening in Durham.

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James Wilkinson

at 18:09 on 17th Feb 2012

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I haven’t read or watched any Terry Pratchett before. Feel free to close your browser instantaneously on reading this sentence, but I believe that getting the chance to review ‘Night Watch’ in relative ignorance is a fantastic opportunity. Ooook! Productions have obviously done a fantastic job in bringing the Discworld to life through their recent productions, attracting many Pratchett fans in the course of their existence. However, I am sure that not everyone who visited/will visit the Assembly Rooms for this term’s dose of the Discworld will be au fait with its intricacies. So why not test how Ooook! fairs in making this in a worthwhile experience for us mere earthlings? Very well, it seems.

To summarise the plot to those in a similar situation to myself, the play begins on the 30th Anniversary of the Glorious Revolution, where the Commander of the City Watch Sam Vimes in thrown back through time whilst attempting to arrest the infamous criminal Carcer Dun. Unable to return home, Vimes is forced to masquerade as John Keel, his former mentor in the watch. This leads to Vimes taking position as Sergeant-at-Arms at a precarious time in the city of Ankh-Morpork, in the build up to a revolution. Vimes is forced to contend with this and his nemesis Carcer, whilst training the younger version of himself in order to prevent the distortion of history.

Evidently, there is a significant storyline to fit into one evening, and Ooook! did well in doing so whilst keeping the integral parts of the plot…well, integrated. Furthermore, this at times dark drama, covering a range of heavy themes, was suitably compounded by the abstract and the comedic, for which Pratchett is of course renowned for (yes, even I know that). The choice of dividing the set simply was a successful one, with the depth of the Assembly Rooms stage employed effectively to stage all from the sanctuary of the Captain’s office, the lair of the ‘Unmentionables’ and the barricades symbolising revolutionary fervour. Furthermore, prop selection was good, allowing all characters to function without a cluttering of the stage.

Some slack should be given on a first night, even for a few confusions between Vimes and Keel, but at times the dialogue was stilted and needed a touch more fluidity to maintain the pace of the performance. However, emphasis on the ironies that covered the key themes of revolution, power, freedom and historical discourse were generally delivered to good effect, allowing the play to provide a satirical punch. In particular, the jibes aimed at the paradox of considering flag waving and singing of the national anthem to be a form of rebellion was one which was both well delivered and received.

On the whole, characterisation was of a good standard, seemingly picking up as the cast relaxed into their roles. Vimes Sr (Greg Smith) did well to control the anger within Vimes to allow for his dry wit to pervade when necessary. Meanwhile, his motley crew of constables improved over the course of the evening to stress their buffoonish natures, as they worked better as a group over time.

Carcer (Thomas McNulty) was however a constant presence, a delightfully frightening combination of a psychotic character wrapped within childlike laughter throughout. In a rather large cast, it is impossible to go through everyone, but group scenes (particularly those involving swords) did not create confusion and instead the self-professed mental side of Ooook! came to life in an enjoyable manner.

As such, I can safely say that my decision to embroil myself in the famous Discworld was one to look back on without regret, and which I would recommend to all those who haven’t even picked up one of Pratchett’s myriad of books. The unassuming nature of the production was one which I found both charming and fitting to the way in which the play was written, whilst the obvious enjoyment shown by the cast, both individually and as an ensemble, is something for which they deserve great credit.

So, if you’re new to Pratchett, take and chance and have a watch. At the very least, you will help save some Orangutans, and you can’t do that every day.

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