Amy Price talks to the cast and crew of Ooook!’s upcoming production of ‘Monstrous Regiment’.
Putting on a Terry Pratchett show is an annual event for ‘Ooook!’, but why did you choose ‘Monstrous Regiment’ in particular for this year?
Matt Elliot-Ripley (Co-Director): Monstrous Regiment has always been a favourite Discworld novel of mine, and I was absolutely delighted when we found out there was a stage adaptation written by Stephen Briggs and that the rights were available. We decided upon ‘Monstrous Regiment’ for two main reasons. The first is that the characters and setting are largely self-contained for a Discworld story, meaning that this would be an incredibly accessible play for an audience unfamiliar with Pratchett’s work. Secondly, the story of ‘Monstrous’ is much darker and more serious in tone than other Discworld novels, and we felt that it would be good to show off the diversity of Pratchett’s writing as well as contrasting nicely with the much more farcical ‘Lords and Ladies’ last year.
What is it about his novels that lend them well to the stage?
Imogen Eddleston (Co-Director): The most exciting things about staging Pratchett novels have to be in the level of creativity needed to put together a successful show. Pratchett regularly uses complex symbolism in his characters and settings, as well as fantastical elements such as magic and fantasy creatures, and all of these elements combine to make a technically challenging and incredibly satisfying show. Staging Pratchett novels is far from easy, but the hard work put in by technical and creative crew allow them to be unique experiences in student theatre.
Is this a ‘serious’ theatre or light-hearted ‘fantasy’ that doesn’t require too much deep thought?
M E-R: I don’t see any reason why a piece of theatre can’t be ‘serious’ and ‘fantasy’ at the same time! Pratchett regularly uses fantastical elements in his books to explore (and satirise) incredibly deep topics, such as mortality, humanity, politics, racism, sexism, religion, colonialism… the list goes on and on! ‘Monstrous’ itself is mostly focussed on the journeys of its individual characters, and uses the fantasy available in the Discworld in poignant, thoughtful ways.
Is the war theme poignantly explored? or does the fantastical nature of the story make it harder to relate to?
M E-R: The war in some senses takes a backseat in the play to the more prominent themes of gender roles and gender performativity. Monstrous Regiment explores the perceptions and expectations of women in a ‘man’s world’, and presents the war as the ultimate ‘man’s game’ in which the women have to infiltrate and expose. All of the characters, fantastical or otherwise, are presented as real people with real struggles, and the fantasy elements allow Pratchett to give a unique voice to abstract concepts such as faith, duty and patriotism.
Who would you say is the best character in the play?
M E-R: It depends on what you mean by ‘best’! Sergeant Jackrum is probably one of the most complicated characters – a near-legendary war hero famous for his imposing figure and casual criminality, a man seemingly born to thrive in the chaos of war, who nonetheless harbours his own terrible secrets. His counterpoint, Lieutenant Blouse, is also a favourite of mine: a desk clerk thrust into command of the last regiment of new recruits, with a brilliant mind but (at least initially) too naive and lacking in confidence to push his ideas. And I have a huge soft spot for Lofty and Tonker, but I can’t say much about them without spoilers.
Can you find any parallels between the story and popular current culture?
Andrew Coker (Producer): The show deals in some respects with the presence of minorities in the armed forces, and could be seen to have parallels with developments in LGBT members of the UK military (it wasn’t until 2008 that the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and British Army all marched together at a London Pride event). Plus, we’re still only just seeing women being allowed in combat roles in the military: the US only recently (2013) allowed women in combat roles, and the MoD is conducting a review now, to be completed next year, on whether they will allow women into front line combat roles.
Best line from the show?
Imogen Brown (Shufti): “Men’s clothes, short hair and a bit of swagger is all it takes to be a man. Oh, and a second pair of socks.”
How did you go about casting the show? The complicated characterisation must be quite challenging, and necessitate strong performers?
I E: Casting the show was challenging, and we decided to take the theme of gender seriously by having gender-blind auditions, casting the best people for the roles regardless of how their gender aligns to their characters. As a result there will be men playing women, women playing men, and everything in between on the stage! This way the audience will be constantly guessing which characters are actually female, keeping the air of mystery surrounding the genders of the Regiment.
How are you going about the design for this show?
Kacey Courtney (Set Designer) and Rachel Frame (Makeup Designer): The design for the show is generally naturalistic – whilst Pratchett’s books are set on the Discworld and are fundamentally fantasy, the characters (even the trolls, vampires and Igors) are real people in real, albeit unusual, situations. We’ve made good use of Ooook!’s ambitious technical crew to create a dynamic and atmospheric set for our actors to work in, and have also decided to be more creative with stage makeup in order to emphasise themes of fantasy and gender ambiguity. ‘Minimalist’ is not a word often associated with Ooook!
Fill in the gap: ‘If you love …., you’ll love ‘Monstrous Regiment’.
Gender politics and fart jokes.
Image: Charlie Foster.