In an era where the phrase ‘fake news’ is commonplace, people are looking for a slice of truth wherever they can. And The Truth is exactly what Cardiff theatre-goers are going to get this August, as Peculiar Productions gears up for its debut performance.
I caught up with director Ellen Warren in Cardiff’s 200 Degrees (an apt choice, as that was also Cardiff’s approximate ambient temperature at the time) to discuss park benches, blonde toupées and bringing Terry Pratchett’s Discworld to life.
Something peculiar this way comes
Peculiar Productions is a Cardiff-based theatre group that specialises in stage adaptations of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Their debut play, The Truth, is at Cardiff’s Gate Theatre this August. Tickets are available now.
“It’s about bringing really good theatre experiences to people in Cardiff,” explains director Ellen Warren. “We hope to raise money for good causes and have an enjoyable experience doing it.”
Without being prompted – the cast will start mooing at the beginning of every rehearsal!Ellen Warren
Ellen’s theatrical background – both on- and off-stage – is quite extensive.
“I’ve been doing it a while! When I pitched for this play I counted up all the plays I could remember being involved in. Including The Truth, I’ve counted 38 that I can remember.”
“I’ve not directed since Sixth Form at school, which makes it more of a challenge. This is the first time I’ve had to deal with the budgeting and organisational side of things.
“I have a folder this big” – she gestures at an impressive height above the table – “It’s all the stuff we never considered that needed to happen. And suddenly people are coming to me going, ‘So what are we doing about this?’ And I’m like, ‘… I’ll get back to you on that!'”
Ellen explains that a lot of amateur theatre involves self-directing, so getting the cast comfortable in their roles is key.
“After the initial readthrough of the script, we did six workshops before even attempting regular rehearsals.
“We covered things like characterisation, vocalisation, physicalisation and a bunch of other things ending in -ation.
“We also did a lot of improv exercises, which was a bit different for some people. I was a little concerned they’d think I was just trying to make them look stupid!
“But we’re now at the stage where – without being prompted – the cast will start mooing at the beginning of every rehearsal!”
From the ashes
Regulars to Cardiff’s theatre scene will know that Peculiar Productions is predominantly made up of former members of Monstrous Productions – a group that ran from 2012 to 2017 and hosted ten hugely successful performances of Discworld stories.
With the formation of the new group came an overhaul in their makeup to spread the burden of running the company.
It’s quite a topical play at the moment, being about how the news can affect current affairs as much as current affairs affecting the news.Ellen Warren
“The most obvious change is that we’re now committee led,” explains Ellen. “We did a lot of talking. We had four meetings before we even casted a vote!
“Now, directors pitch their plays to the committee. We’ve already selected next year’s play – on which my lips are sealed. We’re democratic to a fault.”
Peculiar Productions also wants to explore other avenues outside of the confines of the Discworld.
“We’re committed not just to Terry Pratchett, nor are we committed solely to theatre. We’re starting with what we know but we’re hoping that there’s more room to play around with other things.
“We’re still producing two plays a year – something that fans of Monstrous Productions will be familiar with. Outside of that, we’d like to perform smaller events that will help us raise money throughout the year.”
The Truth shall set you free
It’s quite ironic that Peculiar’s first production is an adaptation of The Truth, given the current climate of fake news, alternative facts and intense media scrutiny.
“It’s quite a topical one at the moment, being about how the news can affect current affairs as much as current affairs affecting the news,” says Ellen.
But that’s not the reason she chose this particular play to direct.
“It’s a standalone story. It’s good for people who don’t know the Discworld that well, so it gives us a chance to bring some new people in. It’s also one of my favourites, both in terms of characters and specific scenes.”
Ellen assures me there won’t be any surprise cameos of characters with orange faces and blonde toupées, “otherwise there will be words at the afterparty.”
Even as a standalone, The Truth still has a number of appearances from many of the Discworld’s fan-favourites.
“It’s always been difficult bringing well-known Discworld characters to life because people have such fixed ideas about how they look and act, and I completely understand that.
“Gaspode (the wonder dog) was one of the biggest challenges. How do you portray talking dogs on stage?
“What we’re going with is an Avenue Q style where you have the puppet, but you have the actor visible and performing too.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but our Gaspode (Matt Hitchman, who played Maurice in Monstrous’ The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents) is doing a great job.”
A technical marvel
Fans of The Truth will know that technology plays an important part in driving the story. In addition to the printing press that forms the core of the play’s narrative, you also have the Dis-Organizer and the Gonne to name a few.
“I won’t give too much away about the press, but I’m very excited for people to come and see it.
“How many times do you get to tell people, ‘You have to build this thing. It’s going to be the centrepiece of the show. Once it’s on it never comes off stage. And by the way you may need to break it halfway through!'”
The enormity of adapting Pratchett’s work to stage isn’t lost on her.
“Discworld fans are nothing if not passionate and they have very definite ideas about how it should all look.
“There’s always that feeling of trepidation and delight when you see someone adapting books that you love.
“The whole thing is fast-paced. The news and the press is fast-paced so we wanted to keep that energy.
“It’s going to be really good fun. It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be funny and a little spooky in places too.”
The Truth will be performed by Peculiar Productions at The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff, between Wednesday 22 and Saturday 25 August.