Last Friday night I went to see Guards! Guards! As performed by the GemCo Players. I was excited, looking forward to seeing a giant dragon setting things on fire all over the stage, and to see our Chair, Carmela, playing Sybil Vimes.
Well, I got to see Sybil!
If you haven’t seen (or read) Guards! Guards! then… well, I think this review will be almost completely meaningless to you. But basically, it is the story of Carrot, a human raised as a dwarf, come to the big city to join the Watch – he had heard it would make a man out of him.
And then, there’s a bloody great dragon terrorising the city.
The show was an outstanding success. It is always a bit of a gamble, watching Pratchett plays on stage. A director with no sense of humour, or a cast with no comic timing can really destroy the master’s work. This was not the case in this production. The crowd were roaring with laughter in a number of places, and chuckling for most of the rest of the show. I was infatuated with the stage, the costumes and the actors. They have a fantastic little group there and I’d love to see their next show.
The biggest bones my wife and I had to pick with the show were the length (it started at 8 and the first act finished at 9.30. The second half dragged a little as the jokes thinned out and the hour got later) and the Asterisk.
I get it. The Asterisk is a very difficult plot device to use on stage. It is completely necessary when trying to put across the essential Pratchett-ness of a show, but as a completely written device, it often doesn’t translate well.
But it was overused in this production. The actor (I’m sorry, you’re probably a fine actor!) wasn’t comfortable in the role, was very forced in her humour and folded her glasses one too many times. The director could have easily dropped at least half-a-dozen of the interruptions, letting the cast take some of the exposition, or letting the audience fill in the gaps.
Apart from that one little “*” the cast were mostly excellent. There were a wide range of ages involved, but for the most part, age had nothing to do with talent.
Obviously I thought Carmela did a great job, especially when we first saw her – or the heavy dragon armour that surrounded her. She had a good relationship with Vimes* and a great stage presence.
I was surprised to see that four of the characters were played by a Grade Four student, but happily, he was one of the stand-out comedy parts in the show. His Brother Dunnikin especially had me in stitches as he mumbled about chastised thurribles and the three dollars he would never see again.
Dibbler was my next favourite. During intermission he mingled with the audience, selling chocolates (sometimes for double the price) and assuring us that he was “cutting his own throat”. He had a real presence on stage and played three very different characters. My wife felt that his Thieves’ Guild Head was a little over the top, but I was happy.
The Guards were (again, mostly) well-cast. Colon was very amusing, Vimes had a great physicality and good comic timing. Carrot took awhile to get used to because of all of the guards he is the one that is described the most in the books. But he had a goofy, innocent expression that was instantly endearing and he played off against the other characters with a real skill. Nobby was a case of mis-casting rather than bad acting. He was out of place in the ensemble, but wasn’t a bad actor, just a bad Nobby.
Vetinari and Wonse were both well-cast and Wonse’s range of expression was excellent as the play progressed. He worked well with his secret brotherhood, who in turn, played a number of bit parts throughout the play.
Who have I missed? Of course, the Librarian! His costume wasn’t the best, and he forgot that she was a mon- er, an ape, some of the time, but he was hilarious, especially when playing charades. He made Ook mean exactly what he wanted it to mean, every time. Apparently he also doubled as Death – a seven foot robed skeleton with glowing blue eyes and scythe. Very effective.
And the dragon puppeteer! The swamp dragons were characters in their own right. Very cute, very well designed. Lots of personality. But no jolly great, mechanical, monstrous dragon head lumbering onto the stage! Still, maybe that was for the best. The devices the director used to get around that were very clever and sometimes funnier than if there had been a real dragon on the stage.
The costumes were delightful. I found myself eyeing off the Guards’ costumes and will have Carmela ask leading questions in that direction once the show’s over. And Death was great, glowing in the darkness. The sets were very detailed, very clever, with swinging scene changes that made fantastic use of the stage. The team that put it all together should be congratulated. And then given presents.
All in all, I enjoyed myself immensely. My seven-year-old daughter loved it. My wife loved it. It was definitely worth the drive out to Emerald. Go and have a gander. They finish up on the 24th November.
* Oh, I’m doing this out and about without access to a programme. Please insert the names of actors into your brain as I talk about their characters.