Theatre review

by Julia Jones

Guards! Guards!
Theatre Royal, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
31 March - 4 April 1998

This one was an interesting experience for me, because I'd organised the block booking, and the resulting group was a mix of B7 email list and friends from work. We had people who are hard core Discworld fans (including me), people who've started reading the books but have not yet read G!G! itself, and people who haven't read any of the books - yet :-) We also had a "Please put that slash away, some of my colleagues are sitting near you" experience during the interval...

Firstly - Geoffrey Cushing has done an excellent job of adapting the novel to the stage. It's been cut to a usable length without dropping any of the key scenes that are needed to understand the plot, but there are still plenty of laughs.

Secondly - the cast ranged from good to superb. I found two of the characterisations (the Patrician and Death) slightly disappointing, as did one of the other Discworld fans, but I think this is due to already having a firm view of the characters developed over the course of twenty books - there's only so much you can put in one play. Most of the characters are spot on. And Paul Darrow *is* Captain Vimes.

Thirdly - the set was marvellous, and its design allowed for very fast scene changes, usually while something was going on at the front of stage.

I'm not describing the plot - if you don't already know, you can go out and buy the book (or shoplift it - Terry Pratchett has the dubious honour of being the most shoplifted author in the UK), or trot along to http:\\ for oodles of info on the Discworld. Suffice to say that the lead character is Captain Vimes, head of the Night Watch of Ankh-Morpork, a cynical, world-weary, middle aged man who is thoroughly depressed by the fact that the Gulid of Thieves is in charge of the law by way of an officially sanctioned crime quota system. He ends up getting to save the city from a dragon...

The noise made when Vimes first appeared on stage suggested that Paul's presence was a big attraction for much of the audience. He definitely looks better for losing a bit of weight, although the figment of collective fannish imagination (aka the bald patch) has expanded since I last saw him. Lovely entrance scene with a drunken Vimes talking to his bottle and the gutter before settling down to sleep in the latter.

The performance featured some of the most shameless playing to the audience that I've seen outside a Panto or the Rocky Horror Show, but that's all right because it's precisely what the play requires. The original novel contains a great many references and resonances for the delight of those who spot them. One such reference is one of the elements that went into Vimes - Dirty Harry as played by Clint Eastwood. Those who know about Paul's enthusiasm for this actor may well imagine the scene where a couple of thuggish types turn up on Lady Ramkin's doorstep with the intention of battering her swamp dragons with a club. Enter Vimes with a swamp dragon perched on his wrist, and a hilarious rerun of the "Do you feel lucky" scene with the swamp dragon's flame as the gun. Complete with appropriate accent. The audience was in hysterics by the time Paul got to the actual "Do you feel lucky" line. The entire play was funny, but there were some scenes which were absolute gems, and this was one of them.

About half the audience had a particular appreciation of the preceding scene - where Vimes wakes up in Lady Ramkin's bed after being knocked unconcious. In bed, with Errol, one of the swamp dragons. Errol was a delight, one of the best puppets I've seen on stage. Wonderful interplay between Vimes and Errol, followed by Vimes sitting up abruptly to reveal that he is wearing one of Lady Ramkin's nightdresses, a pair of long black socks, and a pair of fluffy pink slippers with dragons instead of pompoms. Lady Ramkin arrives and insists on putting some ointment on his injury - a scorched groin. Wails of disappointment from the audience when Paul walked round to the back of the bed and bent over with his bum pointing at rear of stage, especially as the nightdress *was* flipped up far enough that we could have had a good view if he'd been facing the other way.

Word plays, sight jokes, plays on references - all made a very, very funny play, with much sly social commentary running beneath it. I loved it both as a Pratchett fan and as a Blake's 7 fan,m and I'll be going to see it again. It's running at least until June, and may re-open after the World Cup.

One final delight - Val Westall, Deborah Rose and I went round to the stage door afterwards. There'd been reports of fairly large swarms of fans at previous venues, but we were the only ones on this occasion. It really *was* a dark and stormy night, so we were huddling in the doorway uncertain of protocol in these matters. Do you just wait outside until the cast come through, or is it all right to ring the doorbell and ask to wait inside out of the rain? As it happened, Paul opened the door after a few minutes and asked us to come in, then talked to us for a few minutes. He also briefly introduced us to the two cast members who'd been in costume (the Librarian and Errol) as they passed, and signed some autographs. A very courteous and charming man, who made time for fans even though he was on his way to have dinner.

It was the end of a busy fannish fortnight, what with the Neutral Zone and Deliverance cons, but one of the best sights of the fortnight had to be a five foot nine ex-US marine trying not to melt into a puddle of goo at the stage door :-) Deborah's comment afterwards was that she would like the Space City mailing list to know that she managed to refrain from doing so until after we'd said good night to him and headed off to the car. My excuse for having very little to say was that I had a sore throat and couldn't have said much anyway. Nothing to do with being too bowled over to make coherent conversation, oh no.

Julia Jones

Back to Paul Darrow Index

Back to Who's Who Index

Back to Blakes 7 Index

Last updated on 25th of April 1998.