This review is based on the performance of Wyrd Sisters at 7:30pm on Friday, February 18th at Newcastle Theatre Company. Photos by Lyn Singer.
Like many local groups in 2020, Newcastle Theatre Company suffered at the hands of COVID-19, with its March production of Daughters of Heaven forced to close after a total of performances you can count on one hand. Now, almost two years on, Lyn Singer is back in the director’s seat, this time with a story of whimsy and cheer to lift our spirits: Terry Pratchett’s 1988 novel Wyrd Sisters, adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs.
On entry, one is greeted with a deceptively simple set: a billowing scrim with a projection of red curtains bisecting the stage, and a cauldron in front of it. The rest of the scenes have similar combinations of electronic backdrops and key set pieces and, considering the number of scenes (over a dozen in the first act alone!), this is a commendably practical choice.
Also, on entry and in between every scene, we get medieval remixes of popular songs, from “Dance Monkey” to Backstreet Boys. It was great.
Granny Weatherwax (Jo Cooper, Daughters of Heaven), Nanny Ogg (Leanne Mueller, Steel Magnolias), and Magrat (Claire Thomas, Stepping Out) are our titular bizarre sorority, each well-cast in their roles, embodying practicality, warmth, and youthful wonder, respectively, very well, not to mention the fact that they’re all funny. They’re given some of the wittiest lines and the plot certainly rests on their navigation of it, so it’s good that they’re good.
After not very much dialogue at the start of the show, we are thrust into the story, with a child, the lost royal baby, delivered into the arms of the witches. They pass it on to a local acting troupe for its own safety and go about their lives, only to find themselves in the middle of a witch hunt spurred on by the Duke (Lee Mayne, A View from the Bridge) and Duchess (Kirsty Horton, The House of Bernarda Alba).
Mayne puts up his dukes and gets down to it as well as he ever does, scrubbing at his blood-dirtied hands with increasingly funny objects, but I found myself more enthralled by Horton’s completely unironic portrayal of his wife. Not once does she ever play the punchline of a sequence, and everyone dancing around her foolishly – some doing it literally, with Badger McGuffin as The Fool – only helps to highlight that she is a true villain.
The humour of the show, whether a plotty scene or not, plays out with an almost-pantomime quality. For quite a while in the middle of act one and nearing the intermission, some ludicrous events happen in the streets of Lancre for the sake of being ludicrous (in Pratchett? Never!), as the plot seems to hit the ground running only to falter and stumble. It just seems like we’re never going to get to the point, which is risky in this modern era of consumption of compact media.
This is especially evident when the plot begins to be about the commissioning of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (and a dash of Hamlet thrown in), with Duke Felmet as James I, and other names changed for their own protection. Suddenly, after a litany of light laughs, we need our thinking caps on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good fun, but there is an issue of balance.
Act two is when the show begins to truly hit its stride, though this is not without the hard work act one puts into immersing us in the world and story. It’s shorter, but manages to use the ensemble more smartly, and employs my favourite trope of a show within a show (within another show, if you can see this as a meta-troupe of players in its own right).
Said ensemble includes Richard Murray (Two), Helen Comber (who, in my favourite moment, declares a certain scene her favourite after introducing it), Michael Smythe (Endgame), Alison Lancey (Così), and Aimee Cavanagh, who led NTC’s recent production of 84 Charing Cross Road.
At the end of the day, everyone was cast very well, and it wasn’t so much that this production would push everyone or redefine theatre, but rather that it would play to their strengths to put on the best and most uplifting comedy possible in these hard times.
For that, I commend Singer, and I am very intrigued to see how a projection-based setup can be expanded on in her future shows, and all over Newcastle!
Wyrd Sisters has just three performances left, with tickets here at $35 for adults, $30 for students and concession, and a mere steal at $25 for all on Wednesdays. Follow Newcastle Theatre Company on Facebook here.