Staging a production of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment is by no means an easy feat, and yet Ooook! Productions have handled this challenge with ease. Whilst it could have perhaps been improved by shortening, its duration was certainly subordinate to the clarity of talent of its ensemble and production team, who made this long evening entertaining, instead of tiresome.
Monstrous Regiment follows Polly Perks as she disguises herself as a man in order to join the Borogravian army. However, Polly finds she is not the only anomaly amongst the bunch, which involves an Igor, vampire and troll. Gender ambiguity is certainly at the heart of many of the successes of this production. In fact, Ooook! Productions must be commended for this well-chosen play. Considering the ever prevalent casting dilemma in Durham where there are too many females for parts and far too few males for parts, the genders politics of this production is particularly resonant. It exemplified the clear talent amongst its female and male actors, and its treatment of gender was both comedic and thought-provoking.
With a cast numbering at twenty one people, this production could easily have been very amateur. However, the ensemble cast were very talented, and supported each other excellently. The direction of Imogen and Eddleston and Matthew Elliot-Ripley was clear and coherent throughout and clearly framed some of the production’s most impressive performances The impressive costume, makeup and set design supported this, and proved that there was nothing novice about this production. The technical side of the production was also particularly impressive and inventive, and aided the production most particularly through its slick transitions and well-chosen lighting and sound.
Zoe Coxen as Polly Perks was a strong lead, whose mannerisms as a man were particularly convincing. Coxen proves to be an extremely enigmatic yet nuanced actor. Neil Robinson as Sergeant Jackrum had a real knack of subtlety in his authoritative role. As his last show, there was added poignancy to his performance in many of his less comedic scenes.
Tyer Rainford was simply glorious as the camp Lieutenant Blouse, and was an absolute joy to behold whenever he came onstage. Adam Simpson’s blood and coffee deprived vampire Maladict was certainly a more heightened character but the sheer commitment to his role proved enjoyable throughout. On the other hand, Naoise Murphy’s less amplified performance as Wazzer still had a certain kind of powerful magnetism, especially as the play progressed.
Amongst the supporting cast, there were also some particularly special performances. Claire Foster as Igor simply has to be praised in virtue of her commitment to the physicality of her character in a comparatively small role and how she handled a particularly troublesome tree. Abigail Weinstock’s impassioned speech as Tonker was a particularly touching part of the play, and the tension it infused within the audience was palpable.
Ooook! Productions always does well to create a familial feel to their productions, and the sheer scale of this production shows its success is a collaborative process. The synergy of the cast and crew fuelled this production with the kind of spirit a Pratchett production truly deserves. Ooook! Productions’ Monstruous Regiment was ultimately wonderful in virtue of its synthesis of being comedic, clever and even a touch sentimental.
Photography: Rob Law.