Going Postal: A great delivery from Water Lane Theatre Company
Water Lane Theatre Company staged Stephen Briggs' adaptation of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Going Postal over three nights at the Charis Centre in Bishop’s Stortford.
Director Becky Deal is to be commended for daring to venture into this steampunk fantasy comedy and introducing people to this great story. The term ‘going postal’ – meaning to become extremely and uncontrollably angry, usually in the workplace – is a great metaphor for the storyline.
Moist Von Lipwig starts out as a conman about to be hanged who then chooses instead to enter a world where he helps a post office redeem itself and invent the postage stamp. A battle ensues between the rise of the internet and the importance of post. A tongue-in-cheek look at real life and Pratchett gives a nod to real-life politics.
Deal had a strong cast that did a fantastic job delivering humour, drama and fast-flowing character work which kept moving until the end.
Jack Stevens brought Moist Von Lipwig to life as an endearing yet cunning conman. He was perfect in this role, word perfect with spot-on comedic timing and physical gestures, and he brought a great, mischievous likeability to the role. Stevens is West End quality as an actor and one to watch.
Together with Von Lipwig, Lord Vetinari (Granville Rush) tried to change the society of the bad people in Ankh Morpork. Rush played the part to perfection, exuding intelligence, wry superiority and enchanting intensity.
Von Lipwig had a delightful 'opposites attract' romance with Adora Belle Dearheart. Corrina Graham-Hodson played the beautiful but severe Adora as a true ice queen, only stopping her death glare to chain smoke and give subtle reactions. Graham-Hodson was cast well as a strong and confident woman who is vulnerable to the pangs of love.
Sophie O'Flaherty shone as Drumknott. She was a stand-out performer, with a well-executed stage voice and chemistry with her fellow cast members. It's unbelievable that it was her first major role with Water Lane and that she is only 17 – what a talent!
Parole officer Mr Pump (Doug Sheppard) was a convincing golem made of clay, who, like any government official, was tireless in his sense of duty. Mr Pump had a lot of emotional moments and Sheppard was able to act out a real blend of naivete, fierce loyalty and deep wisdom, particularly in the poignant moments where he protected Moist Von Lipwig.
Tolliver Groat, the ancient, junior postman, was very well played by Andy Roberts, who played it just as I imagined the character should be, as an eccentric, stuck-in-his-ways, distrusting man. Roberts added a northern accent to the part which lifted the dialogue, and he was animated and watchable throughout. It was obvious he had researched the role and put lots of detail into it physically as well as in the dialogue.
Greg Hill as Groat’s delightful oddball assistant and obsessive pin enthusiast Stanley was another stand-out performance. His over-the-top and energetic delivery made the ludicrous plot fast-moving and gave it a much-needed punch of humour. As one of Greg’s first main roles, I hope it is one of many more as comedic acting is definitely his calling.
John Bell played Reacher Gilt, the enemy, as a flamboyant and retired pirate with ease. Playing it as a ruthless businessman who is a shameless fraudster, Bell took on the baddie role well, even getting the audience to boo him in the bows as he was so convincing.
A lot of the play was interjected with energy from some of the smaller roles, which were just as important as the main parts as they kept the pace moving.
Pam Johnson-Cook had excellent stage presence as the ferocious post office manager Miss Maccalariat, playing it with a maternally protective streak. She delivered her lines with a great clarity.
Becky Roberts played a convincing spiky journalist, Sacharissa Cripslock, but shone more in her scene as Sane Alex with Jacqui Kinnison as Mad Al, both ‘crackers’ who devised codes to crack the postal system. Their coding of The Woodpecker code was entertaining, delightful and magical to watch, with great facial expressions and well-done country accents.
Amanda Green as Mr Pony/Bill/Aggy/Old Mr Parker interchanged between these four characters with ease and convinced the audience about each part well. Green had great likeability the way she physically took on each part and reacted well to her cast members, smoothly and successfully taking on each role with panache.
Nicki Maguire was a fantastic comical actress playing the three characters Trooper, Horsefry and Greenyham, most noticeably making the audience howl with laughter as she knocked back whisky, slurring her lines and scheming with great energy as one of the baddies.
Penny Reeves as Sant, Spoofs and Ridcully totally threw herself into the roles and shone as a wizard for me. She obviously had fun playing the parts and that rubbed off on the audience, who enjoyed her chucklesome and jocular timing.
Sally Fenton as Igor and The Deaconess showed total acting prowess as she went from a nun to a hunchback, scene-stealing as she slipped in her cameo parts with great finesse. Jacqui Kinnison must also be noted for her great enthusiasm and watchability as Mrs Parker.
A big highlight for me was a TV that came to life showing a character Collabone played by Matthew Barnes, a Water Lane member who lives in Russia! Barnes delivered his pre-recorded prose (which looked live) through the TV eerily and with witty delight, with The Wizard of Oz kind of effect. His performance was magnetic and well spoken.
The production was largely helped by the fantastic tech from production manager Will Jamieson and sound and lighting by Steve Cherry, who managed to create the dark moods of the play.
An interesting concept was the three screens on both sides of, and above, the stage. They showed moving illustrations and animation by Granville Rush and Olly Brant which really brought the set to life, giving it that Pratchett fantasy juxtaposed with real life feeling and a 3D edge, as if you might actually be inside the book. I loved the attention to detail such as the street names and envelopes within the drawings. A great touch to the show.
The costumes were outstanding. Attention to detail was second to none by costumier Anne Styles, who has worked on many TV roles, helped by Micheal Beaven, Anna Wilkinson and Nicky Cook. The gold suit for Von Lipwig sparkled in the lights and his magical hat that could sense things was totally believable. Many of the dresses stood out as gorgeous works of Victorian elegance, and I loved Reacher Gilt’s over-the-top romantic steampunk baddie get-up.
The audience really enjoyed the show, and Pratchett fans responded to the deeper meanings of the book while those who didn’t know the book well were still amused and entertained. A quirky, well-handled and daring attempt executed by Water Lane, who delivered the goods and had everything to write home about!
* Going Postal was staged at the Charis Centre from Thursday to Saturday November, 18-20.