Magic seems to be having somewhat of a resurgence in theatre, recently. With the stage version of Harry Potter selling out in London and productions of Mary Poppins and an opera Beauty and the Beast heading for Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, the People’s Theatre’s Lords and Ladies throws itself into the cauldron, telling a whimsical tale on a slightly smaller scale.
I must confess to knowing very little about the Terry Pratchett novels the play is adapted from. But, moments into the Irana Brown-adapted, Hugh Keegan-directed production, I got the impression they would be something I’d get a kick out of. Granny, Nanny, and Magrat, the witches of Lancre, return to their home kingdom after several months abroad. Magrat learns that her married to King Verence, the former Jester, is to take place on Midsummer night. After an argument with Granny, Magrat quits witchcraft and moves into the castle to prepare for her coronation.
The language is silly and the characters likeable. The story, however, can be a little hard to follow in places. Knowing it is a loose parody of A Midsummer Night’s Dream helps, although the plot is never really explained clearly, leaving the audiences to wade through references to trolls, witches and dwarves in order to figure it out for themselves.
It’s almost pantomime-esque in places, characters hitting each other with pans and weeing on sleeping enemies like a classic episode of Bottom, which for me can only be a good thing.
Kath Frazer and Val Russell (above) are a great double act as Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, with Russell in particular getting the laughs. Sarah Scott plays our heroine Magrat and turns the damsel in distress schtick on its head to win the day. She is strong in the role, albeit sometimes second, or third, fiddle to the other ladies. Stuart Laidler also has the hapless King Verance down to a tee. A mention must go to David Robson, who is an anchoring presence as Shawn Ogg. He dips in and out of the story as both the unlikely hero and the comic relief. The real belly laughs though, come courtesy of Casanunda ‘the second greatest lover in the world’ played by John MacDonald. With a ludicrous voice and a somewhat phallic hairdo, MacDonald shines in the role and is a total scene-stealer, with standout lines including, “Count! I’m a count!”
Dominated by a sculpture of Stone Henge and an eerie sunlight/moonlight Stuart Taylor’s stage design is otherwise simple; a large crate sits in the middle, a ladder to the side and little else. The actors themselves roam the stage manically, and the fair-sized cast always feels ten extra than it is. A funny little touch, the cast fall asleep at the end of Act One and remain asleep on the stage during the interval. Act Two comes flying in like a witch on a broomstick, with more belly laughs in the first few minutes than the whole of the first act combined.
Whilst at times lacking the magic touch an enchanting story like this could use to get its message across, it is a strong effort, nonetheless, and one of the best productions I’ve seen at the People’s Theatre. A proper, laugh-out-loud experience – Lords and Ladies holds court, and more than holds it’s own.
Lords and Ladies is at the People’s Theatre until Saturday July 23. Tickets from £11 are available by calling 0191 265 5020 or online here