We are greeted at the Progress Theatre by a smiley and welcoming Chris Moran, director of this production, Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. Chris is a Progress veteran. The director’s notes in the programme are in tune with how she is in person: full of enthusiasm and love for theatre and up for a challenge. As we are talking I realise that I recognise her voice and my other half kindly points out that she played Joyce in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. Of course she did, and she was excellent in it.
Chris talks about the challenge of such a large cast of characters in such a small space, but this is something she has made look easy to the audience. Chris is also a big fan of Terry Pratchett, having previously directed another three of his Discworld series.
Confession number one: I don’t really ‘do’ theatre and I have never written about it before. However, I have seen a couple of other shows here in the past 12 months: notably the excellent Hangmen and the aforementioned Top Girls. I recognise some familiar faces this evening as I settle in to watch the performance. Confession number two: I have never read a Terry Pratchett book. So, I am genuinely going into this cold, but I suspect Chris is no fool: she has picked this story because it’s accessible and fun, and the script is funny and easy to follow. I learn this much within the first ten minutes.
The set is impressive and versatile, created and designed by Chris’ husband Aidan: it is absolutely medieval, with torch-like lighting running the perimeter of the theatre. I am always impressed by the staging delivered by Progress: with the sound and lighting also being spot on throughout. I liked how the cast didn’t hide the set moves between scenes and the innovative design meant it was incredibly smooth.
Wyrd Sisters is the sixth novel in Pratchett’s Discworld series and borrows liberally (and affectionately) from King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth. Wicked Lord Felmet has killed Verence, King of Lancre and taken over the throne, raising taxes in the process. The three witches (the eponymous Wryd Sisters) have rescued Verence’s infant heir, but should they intervene and reveal the truth? So the fun begins.
The actors playing Nanny Ogg (Liz Carroll) and Granny Weatherwax (Melanie Sherwood) do a superb job. They have both played these roles before in Maskerade, another of Chris Moran’s directions of Pratchett’s work. Both ladies have beautiful and characterful voices that carry the room, bouncing off one another with ease. They share a trusting rapport (symptomatic of having worked together before), and much like a harmony, their comic timing is perfectly in tune as they explore these funny lines in their northern accents.
On the other side of the performance is the witch-in-training Magrat Garlick chosen by the late Goodie Whemper (may-she-rest-in-peace) and thrust into the lives of the aforementioned duo, to learn her witchcraft. Played by Yvonne Newton, Garlick develops a slow burning relationship with Dean Stephenson’s Fool: both deliver their parts in a perfect tip-toe around emotions and coming of age. Ali Carroll plays Lady Felmet by design: domineering, power-hungry and somebody who’s answer to every problem is executing somebody else. You watch in hope that she will get her just desserts.
For me, another real delight was George Prové’s performance as the Demon. He delivers this with real charisma, springing out of nowhere and lighting up the room with comedic charm and knowing glances while dealing with interrogation by the three witches, pinging back silly riddles at their questions. He also does an excellent job as TomJon who may, or may not, be the rightful heir to the throne.
I also enjoyed Trevor Dale in funny and fine form as the ghost of King Verence. Watching him, I wondered if he had modelled the role on Bungle from Rainbow, and I promise this is no bad thing: it was very funny, but the vocal tone was pure Bungle-bonce to the point of delight, and once I had made that connection I couldn’t clear it from my mind.
During the interval it struck me that theatre people are happy people: they are almost always upbeat, striving for perfection, wanting things to be just right, but willing to experiment with their own spin. I must say, it is very infectious and you will them on, wanting them to succeed.
In the second act, the production gathers pace as it heads towards its conclusion, but the lines don’t let up and neither does the comedy. It’s a funny and thoroughly entertaining show throughout: kudos goes to the whole cast who do a great job in relaxing into the performance and letting the comedy play out onstage.
Progress consistently put out really good theatre. Wyrd Sisters is no exception and I genuinely enjoyed it, a two hour ride of laughter, witty dialogue, and excellent direction by Chris Moran and wonderful characterful performances. It brought me joy. All of you who were sensible and booked tickets will not be disappointed: it is a crowd-pleasing joyride of irreverent humour, Shakespearian references (complete with OCD handwashing) and classic comic timing. Just what you need on a cold January evening.