Feet of Clay review: “clumsy charm”

By Martin Docherty 

My first encounter with Terry Pratchett was his short novel Eric, and I was instantly taken by the warm wit of the humour and its slick execution. Ooook! Productions’ Feet of Clay certainly has the former, and direly lacks the latter. The technical clumsiness of the production was certainly a shame. However, luckily there was genuine heart and passion present.

In her director’s note for the show, Katherine Briggs states the desired aesthetic was a “mish-mash of steam punk Dickens-come-Conan Doyle and a good old murder mystery”, and this was realised on stage as a heartfelt, homely pastiche of that idea in the set design, gelling excellently with the performances that took place upon it. The stage had three distinct locations on it. The other settings were generated by use of a curtain. The stage proper was excellently used, and these three locations felt very well defined, but the curtain use meant a sense of location was almost entirely lost at points – including two of the climatic moments that just felt entirely removed from the rest of the production.

Another issue plaguing the production was its lighting. There were numerous lighting mistakes and general sloppiness throughout the show that really let it down and did not meet the expectations one has of a 10th anniversary show from an annually releasing production group. Dead bodies stood up and left the set before the lighting was turned off, lighting effects meant for the climax were set off ten minutes before the scene happened, and the “smooth transitions” promised in the director’s note simply didn’t happen.

I mentioned at the start that despite general clumsiness of execution, this play possessed a genuine charm and passion. This heart came from the exemplary performances of some of the cast. Chief among those performances was Uday Duggal’s portrayal of Commander Vimes. Without a strong protagonist, this production would have totally fallen apart, but Duggal’s gruff and thoughtful characterisation of Vimes undoubtedly invested the audience in the central mystery by virtue of our interest in him. The varied technical issues were made a secondary concern by how powerfully Duggal commanded the attention of the audience.

Another performance of note included Ruth McTiernan’s Dragon King at Arms, who had a beautiful command of posture which perfectly underscored the character, also acting as a wonderful interplay with Duggal’s unassuming slouch. Kyle Kirkpatrick made for a very compelling Lord Vetinari, and despite a slight lack of variance in his tone he never failed to command attention or get laughs through some very committed physical acting. Moreover, the ensemble of townspeople and guild leaders also worked together well with the musicians as buskers, and alongside Layla Chowdhury’s Littlebottom and Hannah Sanderson’s Angua they formed an inn scene that was my favourite of the show.

Another acting and costuming commendation must be made to John Duffet’s Dorfl the golem. Molly Gould’s costume work here created a figure that looked crudely fashioned, yet with a light menace and an underlying humanity made all the more unnerving by Duffet’s clunking movements. Such an integral part of the play is important to get right, and I certainly think the realisation of these golems cohere with the production’s aesthetic perfectly. If the lighting and sound design had been better they could have been genuinely menacing and imposing figures, but as they are they served as a very interesting part of the play.

The aforementioned band was a profoundly interesting choice for this production, yet at times criminally underused. Georgia Proctor’s musical direction and composition of the pieces must be commended, and the use of the band as buskers on stage was brilliant. Honestly, I do not understand why they were not included more. Some of the longer scene changes could have been underscored with a musical interlude from these players, which would have helped add a feeling of augmented pace to these otherwise stagnant moments.

Feet of Clay left me feeling deeply unsure, I enjoyed myself but was quite annoyed by the various technical aspects holding this production back from being something excellent. Really, the best way to think of this play is like its golems: crudely, messily, roughly hewn with a spark of humanity animating it.

Photograph: Florence Ryan

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