Guards! Guards!: June 2018

Review by Gill Lambourn

My total knowledge of Pratchett’s work comes from seeing Olwen’s previous productions at Riverside and reading his obituaries so somewhat limited. However, any play should be able to stand alone and work for those with no inside knowledge as much as for those in the know and I will start by saying I enjoyed this production more than i expected simply from my literary preferences which don’t lie in either fantasy or anarchic political humour. I liked the choice of music; it fitted the moment and amusingly added to the show. A particular mention must go to Colleen Muriel who the programme tells me composed It’s Sinister-er-er, thank you. A big well done too to Chantal Supanee, the costumes seemed exactly what the piece required and looked very good from the front. There were a lot of them so it must have been Herculean effort. Thank you Chantal it was well worth it. One small niggle – although maybe there was justification I know not of- I did notice several wedding rings that appeared to have no relationship to the character or the story line. Boring old pros like me do notice these things and believe personal jewellery not called for in the script has no place on stage.

Although in general the sound effects were good and served the play well it was a shame that the opening was slightly ruined by the sound being louder than the dialogue. Carrot’s father (apologies for not being able to identify the actor) was rather too soft – perhaps hampered by the false facial hair and couldn’t compete with it. Guy Shirley who’s performance as Carrot I came to enjoy and admire throughout the evening didn’t start well either being somewhat over the top in stupidity. I guess the scene was supposed to set up the storyline of the play but made little if any sense to me who didn’t know the books. Once the action began things picked up. The sound, having been a little loud at the start, I felt that later on the dragon footsteps could have been louder. But a minor point.

The various members of the brotherhood were well cast. Special mention of Richard Fordyce gave a nicely cross and hard done by performance; Robert Hardy was as ever totally solid on his lines and wonderfully clear. Subtlety is not his strong point but he is always a reliable and very competent member of any cast. He understood the story and his character and looked to be enjoying himself. Well done. It took me a while to recognise Robert Johnson both his costume and his accent worked as disguises. It’s always good when an actor shows a different aspect of their ability, so many are always pretty much the same. Thank you Robert. Matt Markham gave us a fun character. Much as I enjoyed his muttered grumbles. I wasn’t sure whether these were scripted or improvised – in either case, it would have been good to make them loud enough for us to hear the words. As this appears to be an early step towards winning an Oscar I feel it worth saying that although on film whispering is fine, on stage if we can’t hear there’s no point. So – if you plan to aim for an Olivier Award keep projecting! All the rest of your lines could be heard quite clearly so I am guessing the reason for mumbling was due to improvisation, have to confidence that we’ll enjoy what you’re saying the idea was completely correct. Ron Millinger and Sue Ford, both experienced actors, contributed nicely to complete the brotherhood.

And now to the beleaguered GUARDS led by Peter Cornish with good pace and panache. One thing he does well is choose the dialogue to push and what to throw away. There were occasions when I wanted so much to say to some other inthe cast – if you give every line the same amount of importance we in the audience stop really listening – change of pace, pitch, emphasis and volume is what holds our attention. Decide what matters and let other stuff go and your overall performance both as actors and directors will benefit. Howard Tame as ever was hugely watchable and knew how to get every laugh – including upstaging others with his wonderful nose picking business among other things!! The scenes between Howard and Peter were highlights for me. The GUARDS were completed by Stephen Liddle a relative newcomer who brings plenty of performing experience with him. I liked his characterisation but wished he’d kept his volume under control. We know you need to project to the back of the auditorium but I found it almost painful on various occasions which detracted from your performance. More variation and less non-stop vocal pushing next time please.

Peter Smith created a nice Patrician who knew how to play the hand his was dealt to the best advantage. Despite being a kind and generally gentle person Peter has a good handle on playing slightly evil characters. Nice one Peter!!  In contrast to Peter who must be one of the longest standing Riverside members Sarah Boyle was making her debut and did it very convincingly. She was a perfect Lady Sybil and I look forward to seeing more of her in future.

Smaller roles were well filled. James Ford Bannister was particularly amusing with his really dim character (name unknown to me – sorry) and Death was well created both through costume and sound techniques. Saara-Sofia Paakko worked hard and proved nicely supple and athletic with worthwhile results as the Librarian, Geoff Buckingham was his usual lively and amusing self, drawing us in with his enjoyment of both his cameo roles and it was good to see engaging performances from Abigail and Megan and a nice vocal contribution from Heather Benedy.

Lighting requirements went from very straight forward for many scenes to complex and demanding in others. It totally  met expectation and served the story well. Props were many and very varied and all were excellent. Well done to Sophie and Lana. The set was a bit of a curate’s egg for me. The gothic castle was well conceived and looked the part. I liked it. The little hatches that slid back to reveal the relevant faces early on were a delight. I liked the turreted upstage flat and the actors used it well. The idea of having the sections free standing to revolve to meet the demands of many, many short scenes and different locations was something that I can totally understand seeming necessary. They gave the efficient stage crew plenty of work and although pictures and other items on the walls were meaningful if you knew Disc world well, in reality it we would have been just as happy with as simple, single set and being asked to use our imaginations – we can you know. There was no need for doors that were just for show and not for practical entrances. It seems mean to be critical of something that was well made and well operated but it added a significant amount of time to the run and with over 50 miles to drive home afterwards saving what I reckon was around quarter of an hour without in any way short changing the play would have been a good thing. Also, for me the constant blackouts to facilitate the revolves just meant loss of attention. Leave the lights up, let us see the stage crew or better still use the actors to move furniture and props. The vast majority of professional productions work this way these days. And it saves time.

Thank you again for asking me. GUARDS! GUARDS! was an enjoyable evening of theatre and the FOH, bar staff and facilities at Riverside compare really favourably with any other amateur theatre experience. Well done. Please take anything I’ve said as positive and intending to be helpful and in no way personal. Olwen you have had somewhere around three months hard work and worry I’m sure and I hope you were pleased and proud of what you created. You should be.