Review: ‘Mort’

By Aaron Rozanski

As an eight year old child, I remember sitting around a short-circuited electric fire at Christmas, watching an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Hogfather’ on television, and feeling in awe of the sweeping imaginative narrative and colourful compilation of characters that danced across the screen. Whilst Ooook’s latest production of ‘Mort’ may have lacked the grace and perfection of Pratchett’s infamous creative vision, it undoubtedly embraced the eccentricity vital to the ‘Discworld’ saga. 

Whilst the two-hour experience was far from perfect, for the most part I found the experience jovial. The majority of this should be attributed to the cast, who embody the endless canon of quirky creatures impressively. John Duffett as the infamous ‘Death’ holds the room with his classically handsome voice, with his deadpan comedic delivery earning the most genuine laughs of the evening. Despite never seeing the face behind the honey-glazed tones, Duffett manages to create a character with depth and emotional range, which is no easy feat, especially whilst Death tackles the hellish equivalent of menopause. Alistair Hall captures the nervous energy and manic aura of Mort, providing a wonderful counterpart to Duffett’s booming brilliance. Whilst he occasionally struggles with aspects of his character, specifically in displaying the internal turmoil within Mort towards the end of the play, the majority of his performance is nuanced and effective.  

Whilst the two-hour experience was far from perfect, for the most part I found the experience jovial.

From the large supporting cast, it is clear which members of the cast are confident in immersing themselves in the madness of the source material. Keir Mulcahey, Harry Twining, Ed Cook and Niamh Hanns are four of many to make the most of their limited stage time, throwing themselves into their unconventional characters with total commitment, and clearly having fun whilst doing so. Matthew Redmond’s performance as a Door Knocker is also admirable, with his reactions at the scenes around him being often more funny than the actual dialogue. At times, I feel that other members of the cast seem somewhat embarrassed by the unconventional nature of the play, and thus give more timid performances. Any sense of insecurity shows immediately in a play of this nature, and therefore demands total embodiment. Pratchett demands actors to embrace the bizarre, urging them to feel ridiculous in their performances, as this is the only way for the play to come across as deliberately quirky and not accidentally tacky. However, the overall energy and dedication to the mania created a cast Pratchett would have been proud of. 

I feel that other members of the cast seem somewhat embarrassed by the unconventional nature of the play

I found myself saddened, however, that the majority of the jokes fell flat with the audience. Therefore, greater time needed to be taken at key plot points to ensure people could follow, and actors needed to deliver certain speeches with more care, as I can certify that I was not the only person who couldn’t follow the narrative in the scene with Death and the prostitute.

this play unfortunately struggled on opening night

In terms of production, this play unfortunately struggled on opening night. Admittedly, for the first half, blocking and technical mistakes actually enhanced the feeling of the bizarre, evoking warm chuckles from a sympathetic audience. Imogen Eddleston dealt with a technical issue in perfect fashion towards the start, quipping on standing in the wrong spot with the comedic confidence necessary to theatre. However, two hours in, and it was clear the novelty of somewhat random lighting cues had worn off with the audience, as the comforting laughs at the beginning transformed into more of an embarrassed silence.

Further, the technical aspect of the show lacked much continuity. Whilst I appreciate mistakes happen, especially with productions of this complexity, the most alarming issues were not accidental. The monologues of narrative exposition were mostly lit with a spotlight, and yet randomly some did not deserve this special treatment. The overuse of blackouts, even to mask characters moving two steps forward to start the next scene, was completely unnecessary. The random decision to mime tarot cards when mime was resisted for the rest of the play was jarring. The sudden use of a mystery door stage left thirty minutes before the end made me and other audience members jump, as characters suddenly decided to emerge from this entrance which was seemingly unusable for the first four acts. These mistakes are frustrating for audience members as they are easily avoidable with greater rehearsal and attentiveness, and it subtracts from the clear talents on and off the stage.

The music is perfect

This being said, credit must go to the sound department. The music is perfect, capturing the fantastical feeling of the narrative, and never seems to overbear the performances. Once again, I was unsure why it was used to link some scenes and not others, as it provided the perfect connector as we travelled around the Discworld. The costumes are outstanding, and the apparently never-ending colourful wardrobe draws us into the world of fantasy like no charity shop ever has.

Overall, it could be easy to criticise the imperfections of Ooook’s latest production. However, it was impossible not to feel affection for the wonder and ambition of ‘Mort’. The spectacular cast carried a script of potential hilarity, and with greater care and refinement, there is no reason this play could not be deathly amusing. ‘Mort’ requires audience and actors alike to embrace the bizarre, which if achieved, will allow for a theatre full of mania of the most mind enhancing nature, as you lose yourself in the magnificent of Pratchett’s Discworld.

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