If you’ve seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Phantom of the Opera, at Her Majesty’s Theatre you may have seen one of the most spectacular operas on the West End. Perhaps then you may not be expecting a local village amateur drama group to deliver quite the same entertainment quality.
In a quaint little town in the Oxfordshire countryside last week you may have seen something entirely different.
The Sinodun Players’ rendition of Terry Practchett’s Maskerade, adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs, was not quite as thrilling, nor as magnificent, nor as spectacular as the actual Phantom of the Opera but Prachett’s parody of this famous story was quite simply fabulous!
In the opening scene a shreiky Christine (Natalie Lester) didn’t quite resemble something of the beautiful Christine at Haymarket. Her slightly fuller co-star Perdita (Samantha Fields) or Agnes Nitt (her alter witch ego) and Cinderella-like chum who unlike the affected pre-madonna Christine who could not hold a tune, Perdita proves to be the actual star of the show when she belts out one of Dr. Undershaft’s operatic favourites, holding her tune perfectly.
When the Ankh-Morpork Opera house owner and befuddled former cheese Merchant, Seldom Bucket (Peter Smithson), starts to receive letters signed from the Opera Ghost his nose ruffles. Unbenounced to him the Opera house had always had a ghost but it didn’t used to kill people.
When Granny Weatherwax (Dida Moore), the indomitable and inquisitive first half to the duo of the Witches of Lancre, (minus one), accompanied by the curious and crude Nanny Ogg, (Ginny Avery), spend their time causing mischief trying to unravel the mystery which echos the storyline of the Phantom of the Opera, they find out that at this theatre, the producer really “hates opera”!
Salzella, (Graham Watt) the mysterious, supercilious and sadistic producer succeeds his counterpart opera lover, Dr Undershaft (John Jones), after he is found strangled and strung up! In more spine-chilling yet patronising and rather amusing notes the Opera Ghost strikes again with messages saying “Beware! hahaha…. Signed the Opera Ghost.”
Directed by Paul Cleverly, this stage adaption was highly professional, with an ever changing set, including clever adaptions of classic stage props as well as a digital screen backdrop used for special effects for when Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax embark on their coach journeys. Accompanied by fantastic costumes and a slight hint of song from the actual musical the play was a well-rounded culmination of humourous satire alongside a more serious moral of hiding behind invisible masks and seeing through the seems.
Although, some of the acting at times could have been over done and pantomime-ish the performances given were mature yet appropriate to their roles whilst the storyline, mirroring the Phantom of the Opera was set in Pratchett’s fictional, fantasy Discworld, quite rightly explained within the play as, “Fiction- where reality meets fantasy”. Nanny Ogg, especially held her own in delivering a crudely comic role, contrasting with Granny Weatherwax’s serious demeanour and quest to “Do good!”
Nanny Ogg: “They were rattling their knobs”
Granny Weatherwax: “Not at our time of life Nanny Ogg.”
The underdog character of Walter Plinge, (Joel Webster) finally triumphs towards the end to uphold his new position, standing up straight as the new Operatic producer. A suspiscion falls on him at the beginning of Act Two that perhaps he is the Opera Ghost until Granny Weatherwax unmasks him – revealing things are not always as you see them.
In a tense yet hilarious fight scene between Walter and the actual baddy of the story, Salzella, the latter is stabbed and reveals that actually he doesn’t really like Opera at all in his final, fake, knife-stabbing moments.
The engaging parody of the theatre within the theatre helped create the atmosphere in the wings of the Corn Exchange in Wallingford. The chandelier hung, as the audience waited for the terrible moment it came down. It remained stable till the end of the show, that was perhaps my only disappointment. But could it really beat the Chandelier at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Probably not. But then this was not the Phantom of the Opera. This was simply great acting, a fantasticly delivered storyline in one of Pratchett’s fabulous fantasy worlds and quite frankly, downright good entertainment!
The final evening saw Steven Briggs in the audience to watch his stage adaption unfold and all ticket sales and donations went to the Alzheimer’s Society (inspired by Mr. Pratchett himself and the reason for the performance). For further donations, please go to www.justgiving.com/maskerade. Alternatively visit the Corn Exchange Website on www.cornexchange.org.uk/PublicPages/