By Gillie Tunley and Brenda Sandilands.
The Progress Theatre are staging the late-lamented Terry Pratchett‘s Maskerade this week, a Discworld play full of mystery, murder and musical mayhem. Chris Moran’s production fizzes with delicious lunacy – opera has never been such fun!
We are summonsed into the atmospherically lit Ankh-Morpork Opera House to the stirring organ strains of the Phantom of the Opera, an extravagent bejewelled chandelier on a rope sways precariously overhead… we catch a fleeting glimpse of the mysterious masked phantom.
Aidan Moran’s ingenious multi-level set and reveals (which are rapidly becoming a Progress Theatre trademark!) allow the contorted plot to flow smoothly.
We meet the hapless Walter Plinge (an endearing Frank Spencer-esque portrayal by Dean Stephenson complete with yellow beret) battling with his broom and witness the audition of the hopeful Agnes ‘Perdita’ Nitt (touchingly played by the delightful Lily Killaspy, with impressive vocal support by Caroline Carragher). She is observed by the somewhat disinterested ‘panel’ in the balcony above as she navigates her scales from basso profundo to higher than a dog whistle. Her vocal performance quite outstrips that of the petulant willowy diva Christine (simperingly played by the decorative Rebecca Douglas), whom she is destined to ‘shadow’.
The plot becomes ever more contorted and murder and mayhem are rife amid the sumptuous opera soundscape. “Opera can do that to a man, it can drive you mad” intones the haughtily elegant Mr Salzella (played with delicious dramatic irony by Trevor Dale) and then hints melodramatically at ‘accidents’. The stolid new owner Seldom Bucket (played with robust northern humour by Ben May in check suit and yellow braces) is alarmed.
But never fear, help is here in the shape of the two sleuthing witches… enter the utterly fabulous Nanny Ogg in stripy socks and lace-up boots (rivettingly played by the superb Liz Carroll) and the glamorous Granny Weatherwax (a dynamic performance by the magnificent Melanie Sherwood).
The plot twists and turns, there is a lunatic chase to the Ride of the Valkyries through the bemused audience, Greebo (an arrestingly sensual performance by Dan Bignell) transmoggifies in a quite spectacular manner… and finally the play gallops triumphantly towards its hilarious denouement.
Tickets are at a premium… do not miss this guaranteed cure for the January blues!