Terry Pratchett’s “The Fifth Elephant” by Stephen Briggs

Directed by Mark Preston

25th – 28th April and 2nd – 5th May 2018

Sam Vimes, the no-nonsense Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, is sent on a diplomatic mission to the Discworld equivalent of Transylvania, to negotiate with werewolves, dwarves and vampires and prevent an inter-species war. Accompanied by his wife, a troll and a dwarf from the Watch, a mysterious diplomat, and an undead servant, Vimes faces a battle for his life in the snowy mountain forests of Überwald …

REVIEWS

In Wit and Fantasy Lies Truth 

 The late, great Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series paints a picture of an extraordinary, surreal, fantastical but vaguely familiar society.  His books are famously beloved of his many ardent fans.  Devotees have clear mental images of the characters, action and environment of Discworld drawn from their interpretation of Pratchett’s words.  It’s quite a test then for any theatrical company faced with the task of bringing those well-loved characters and events convincingly to the stage.

Under the experienced direction of Mark Preston, however, with an enthusiastic and diverse cast, Chelmsford Theatre Workshop’s production of The 5th Elephant, one of the final books in the Discworld series, certainly can’t be faulted in its aim to bring authenticity to both Pratchett virgins and aficionados alike.

The haunting tones of a cover version of Tears for Fears’ hit ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ gave the arriving audience a clue of the nature of the drama to follow.  As the action began, Mark Sutton cut an appropriately suave and dashing figure as Commander Sam Vimes, nominally in charge of the diplomatic mission to the dwarf, troll and werewolf inhabited state of Uberwald. There is always a power behind the throne, though and Martin Robinson  portrayed Inigo Skimmer in all his smarmy and sinister glory.  His sense of comic timing was appreciated by the knowing audience as he declared, “I do not think, I am a civil servant…….I advise people.”

However, it was actions as much as words which were employed to great effect by the actors to demonstrate the feelings of their characters.  Sergeant Detritus (Rob Evans) left a hostile werewolf in no doubt that Vimes’ deputation would not easily be deterred from their quest with a parting flick of his crossbow.  As the token dwarf of the Ankh-Morpok City Watch, Charlotte Norburn’s coquettish beard twirling and checking of her reflection effectively alluded to the sense of sophistication felt by Corporal Cheery Littlebottom over  the dour, drab dwarves of Uberwald with which Vimes was attempting to negotiate.  Anna Harris was suitably canine (or is that supine?) as the cockney talking dog, Gaspode.  His  mission was to run with the wolves.  Special mention has to go to Lewis Clark who put in a particularly  physically arresting performance as Igor.

Bernice Cramphorn and her team have to be commended for the attention to detail they obviously put into  the costumes.  Gaspode’s bone and spotted neckerchief, Skimmer’s impeccable bureaucrat’s gold-flecked suit and the nocturnal black and red of the werewolves all helped to lift Pratchett’s characters off the page.  The intimidating looking armour worn by Vimes, Detritus, Captain Carrot (Giles Margerum) and the dwarves would have proved a test for any costume designer.

It was made clear from this production that The 5th Elephant was intended as  a celebration of equality and diversity as much as it was a parody on authority and bureaucracy.  Cultural  references to Chekhov and the role of women and different ethnic groups were drawn out effectively, providing an allegory for our current fractured world.  At the end of the performance, a picture of Terry Pratchett was displayed in tribute to what would have been his 70th birthday.  I think he would have approved.

REVIEWS

THEATRE LIFE

Terry Pratchett is an acquired taste. It may not appeal to everyone and The Fifth Elephant falls completely into this category.The Fifth Elephant throws audiences into the middle of Uberwald, a remote region which is home to dwarfs, vampires and werewolves.

When Samuel Vimes is sent there as an ambassador for the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, not everything goes to plan and he finds himself on the run.The play is full of interesting characters and on this occasion, some were better developed than others. Sadly, the diction in some places was a little poor, lacking in annunciation and rather gabbled, making it sometimes difficult to understand, which is imperative in a story like this. However, there were some great performances from this cast.Mark Sutton as Commander Samuel Vines was strong throughout, he had good facial expressions, one of the few with good comedy timing and great stage presence.  He was partnered with Caroline Froy as Lady Sybil also gave a strong performance. In addition, Giles Margerum as Captain Carrot had a good, well-rounded character and Martin Robinson as Skinner gave a lovely performance with great characterisation and accent.

I have seen several Chelmsford Theatre Workshop productions and I have always been impressed by their sets and attention to detail, this, by contrast, was a simple set with some back projections but I felt it would have benefited from a stronger set or more projections and given the large number of scene changes better use of the stage by lighting certain areas and transferring from one to another which would have kept the action going rather than stopping and starting.Other strong performances came from Robert Evans as the troll Detritrus who stayed in character throughout; Lewis Clark who found all the humour in Igor, Igor and of course Igor and Richard Pennicard as Rhys Rhysson with his delightful Welsh accent.I have to commend Rachel Curren for stepping in as Cheery Littlebottom. I don’t know what notice she had and although in some scenes she had the script to hand you would never have known she wasn’t the original cast member and she gave an amazing performance.  Rachel is a consummate performer and always a joy to watch.This play needs us to venture into the magical place of Discworld and this was right on the cusp of that, but I felt needed a little bit more to push us over the edge. However, If you love Terry Pratchett, then this play is perfect for you and you will love this production.

In Wit and Fantasy Lies Truth 

 The late, great Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series paints a picture of an extraordinary, surreal, fantastical but vaguely familiar society.  His books are famously beloved of his many ardent fans.  Devotees have clear mental images of the characters, action and environment of Discworld drawn from their interpretation of Pratchett’s words.  It’s quite a test then for any theatrical company faced with the task of bringing those well-loved characters and events convincingly to the stage.

Under the experienced direction of Mark Preston, however, with an enthusiastic and diverse cast, Chelmsford Theatre Workshop’s production of The 5th Elephant, one of the final books in the Discworld series, certainly can’t be faulted in its aim to bring authenticity to both Pratchett virgins and aficionados alike.

The haunting tones of a cover version of Tears for Fears’ hit ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ gave the arriving audience a clue of the nature of the drama to follow.  As the action began, Mark Sutton cut an appropriately suave and dashing figure as Commander Sam Vimes, nominally in charge of the diplomatic mission to the dwarf, troll and werewolf inhabited state of Uberwald. There is always a power behind the throne, though and Martin Robinson  portrayed Inigo Skimmer in all his smarmy and sinister glory.  His sense of comic timing was appreciated by the knowing audience as he declared, “I do not think, I am a civil servant…….I advise people.”

However, it was actions as much as words which were employed to great effect by the actors to demonstrate the feelings of their characters.  Sergeant Detritus (Rob Evans) left a hostile werewolf in no doubt that Vimes’ deputation would not easily be deterred from their quest with a parting flick of his crossbow.  As the token dwarf of the Ankh-Morpok City Watch, Charlotte Norburn’s coquettish beard twirling and checking of her reflection effectively alluded to the sense of sophistication felt by Corporal Cheery Littlebottom over  the dour, drab dwarves of Uberwald with which Vimes was attempting to negotiate.  Anna Harris was suitably canine (or is that supine?) as the cockney talking dog, Gaspode.  His  mission was to run with the wolves.  Special mention has to go to Lewis Clark who put in a particularly  physically arresting performance as Igor.

Bernice Cramphorn and her team have to be commended for the attention to detail they obviously put into  the costumes.  Gaspode’s bone and spotted neckerchief, Skimmer’s impeccable bureaucrat’s gold-flecked suit and the nocturnal black and red of the werewolves all helped to lift Pratchett’s characters off the page.  The intimidating looking armour worn by Vimes, Detritus, Captain Carrot (Giles Margerum) and the dwarves would have proved a test for any costume designer.

It was made clear from this production that The 5th Elephant was intended as  a celebration of equality and diversity as much as it was a parody on authority and bureaucracy.  Cultural  references to Chekhov and the role of women and different ethnic groups were drawn out effectively, providing an allegory for our current fractured world.  At the end of the performance, a picture of Terry Pratchett was displayed in tribute to what would have been his 70th birthday.  I think he would have approved.

Michelle Jacobs

April 2018

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