Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wyrd Sisters: a twist on *that* play, you know the one

Andrew loves British author Terry Pratchett. His books take up about a row and a half of our bookshelf. If you've never read any of Pratchett's books, let me briefly describe: he's a satirist, primarily of the fantasy genre, but he'll occasionally make fun of well known popular cultural stories (i.e. Masquerade makes heavy reference to the Phantom of the Opera). They all take place in his fictional setting of the Discworld. He also has a large cast of character's he draws upon to populate his books (different books focus around the wizards, witches, the city guard), and Death MAKES AN APPEARANCE IN ALMOST EVERY BOOK (I'm not going to explain my seemingly inexplicable use of caps, you'll have to figure it out yourself). I enjoy Pratchett's books as well (although not quite as much as my hubby) and I haven't read all of the ones on our shelf. I think in particular I enjoyed Night Watch, Thud, Going Postal, and the Tiffany Aching series.

A week or two ago after we'd were finished up at the gym Andrew noticed a slightly unusual picture on the front of the University newspaper. It showed three women poised around what looked like a weird bust or something--but as we were heading to the locker rooms we didn't get a close look. Later as Andrew waited for me to finish changing he picked up the paper to fill his time and discovered the image we'd seen was from the play version of Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters as performed at the Walterdale Theatre. We seem to be knocking a lot of Edmonton firsts off our list as of late--probably because we know our residence here is coming to a close. We've never been to see anything at the Walterdale, and this seemed as good a time as any. Thankfully Andrew ordered the tickets ahead of time, or I suspect we would've been out of luck as the theatre was packed.

The Walterdale is nice small theatre. For those of you who don't know, it's housed in the old Srathacona fire hall, so it has these huge arching doors as a part of it's exterior facade, which would have once been the exit for horse drawn fire trucks. The interior theatre is basically a black box and I wonder if they create other seating/stage arrangements depending upon the requirements of the play. For Wyrd Sister's the stage took up one corner of the square, while the seating covered the opposing corner and two lengths of the square. Andrew managed to snag front row seats on stage left. I thought for a little theatre the costuming was quite good, especially given that this play required medieval-type dress, and although the set was minimalistic, there were a number of excellent special effects, especially the scene that had been photographed for the newspaper.

Wyrd Sisters is not one of the Pratchett books I'd read, so I didn't know the plot, but it didn't take long to figure out it was based upon that play. You know, the Scottish one. Or for those of you who aren't superstitious (including myself) it was based upon MacBeth. It starts off with three witches standing around a cauldron, but very quickly breaks from the 'creepy-mysterious' mood it was trying to create to parody as the witches pull out their pocket books and try to find a suitable date for when 'they three will meet again'. From there it's off to the races as the witches are intrusted with the care of a infant king, whom they secret away to live with a traveling band of actors. Meanwhile the king is dead, killed by his cousin, Duke Felmot. Here was a neat twist on the MacBeth storyline; it was the duke who continued to envision blood all over his hands rather than his lady. They continued to play with the scrubbing of the hands theme, starting out with a simple cloth, moving to sandpaper, a file, then a cheese grater. I have a pretty strong stomach for grossness, but even I flinched as the show progressed, and blood and fake skin was worked into the makeup.

I thought the acting and over all production quality was quite good--especially given it's little theatre (not that little theatre can't be good, but it can be bad). The actors who played the witches were especially strong, rather important, given they're the central characters. Granny Weatherwax was appropriately steely and unflinching, Nanny Ogg jolly, and Magrat a bit flighty (although I don't think I've read any books with Magrat, so I can only assume this is how she normally appears). As I mentioned above they did a really neat affect when the witches call up a demon to answer their questions. It looked like an empty brick fireplace with a metal pot on the top, but in fact, there was an actor hidden inside the fireplace who came up out of the pot (with excellent makeup I might add).

The only criticism I have, and it's not of the actors or techies, but that the play does a lot of cutting back and forth between different scenes, which gives the show something of a choppy feel. As Andrew and I discussed later we thought this amounted to the difficulty of translating Pratchett off the page, and into another medium. So much of what he relies on language and watching it versus reading it takes something away from that. Also, Pratchett often does a multiple timeline sort of story, so jumping back and forth in a book helps to layer in the plot, but in action it just becomes jumpy.

Overall, we both enjoyed Wyrd Sisters. We haven't seen a play in a while, so it was enjoyable to go see one, especially one that we were disposed to like before it even started.