Although the eighteen (so far) Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett are often sneered at in the review pages of broadsheet newspapers, Pratchett more or less invented parody-fantasy as a genre with its own coherent if cock-eyed rules. It is too easy to dismiss him as a cult, albeit one with more acolytes than a number of churches. The more trainspotterish of his fans may deprecate the first professional London production of a stage version of one of his books (Guards! Guards! is number eight in the Discworld cycle): it is adapted by Geoffrey Cush rather than the semi-official hand of Stephen Briggs; the sardonically informative voice of the narrator is entirely expunged, along with one or two cherished minor characters; and the orangutan librarian wears a frock coat rather than a skin six sizes too big for him, among other points.
Cush and director Peter Benedict have chosen to be faithful to the spirit of Pratchett rather than the letter; instead of distracting themselves with a wealth of magnificently amusing but strictly unnecessary detail, they have aimed to recount in the broadly appropriate spirit the central story, in which a mystically summoned dragon menaces the frankly unsavoury city of Ankh-Morpork and particular the hapless City Guard, whose ranks have recently swollen to three with the recruitment of a 6'5" dwarf named Carrot.
The absence of Pratchett's narratorial voice is a palpable loss: Briggs's adaptations have been known to include two narrators – one for main text, one for footnotes. Nevertheless, the principal characters are by and large nicely realised: particularly noteworthy are Sarah Whitlock as Lady Sybil Ramkin, a kind of cross between Shelley Winters and Margaret Rutherford who runs a kennel-club for miniature dragons, and Iain Stirland as Carrot, the enthusiastic innocent who leads an implausibly charmed life. As the protagonist Captain Vimes, Colin Starkey takes a while to balance the sodden with the cynical side of his character; Benedict himself makes an efficiently astringent city secretary, and Alex Langdon is underused as the anthropoid librarian and a swiftly incinerated would-be hero.
A sizeable chunk of the Grace's production budget has been expended on the first revolve I have ever seen on a pub theatre stage. It is used to the utmost, but somehow avoids becoming annoyingly repetitious. As Christmas fringe fare goes, Guards! Guards! is a fine alternative to the seasonal standards; it should also keep the less obsessive of Pratchett fans happy until, as surely must happen soon, a West End producer wakes up to the extent of his bankability.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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