A look at what it’s like to become a member of Monstrous Productions and to be a part of a Discworld stage adaptation.
What a crazy few months it’s been!
As some of you may know, I’ve been an avid follower of Monstrous Productions ever since they did a stage adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum back in 2013 (and Monstrous Regiment before that as Act One Theatre Company).
Monstrous Productions is a Cardiff-based theatre company that produces stage adaptations of the novels of Terry Pratchett, with all proceeds going towards Alzheimers Research UK i.e. to battle the Embuggerance from which Sir Pratchett himself suffered.
Getting the part
I’d watched and loved all of their plays, so when the chance came to audition for their production of Night Watch in late April, I finally summoned up the courage to do so.
So I appear to have applied to audition for a Discworld stage adaptation. Haven’t done stage stuff since I was 16. This’ll be interesting 🙂
— Jamie Gibbs (@mithrilwisdom) April 21, 2015
It was a strange experience – I’ve not done any kind of performing for about a decade, so suddenly being back in that world again was a little nerve-wracking.
I read Carcer’s monologue at the audition – not too successfully as I fumbled the words and didn’t come across as menacing at all. The dialogue scenes were easier as the nerves had worn off and there was less of a deer-in-headlights feeling.
Thankfully, that night after the audition I’d been told I’d got a part and could become a member of Monstrous Productions!
As the play progressed, I was lucky enough to get an upgrade to my role not once, but twice, due to cast members leaving.
And so it was that I went from Waddy to Billy Wiglet to Ned Coates, earning me the award for “Most Promoted” at the Night Watch after-show party.
From the first read-through of the script, you could tell that a lot of the cast were able to nail their characters straight away.
In particular, Jes (Sam Vimes / John Keel), Tyron (Carcer Dun) and John (Nobby Nobbs) were spot on from the start. Given the amount of praise they’ve had in reviews of Night Watch, it’s good to see that these first impressions were correct.
Most rehearsals were done in blocks of scenes, moving onto lengthier run-throughs as we got closer to show week.
These would almost always start off with warm-up games like Splat, Bang!, or vocal warm ups from our acting coach Ellen (who did a superb job as Esme Weatherwax in Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad).
One thing that some of us weren’t expecting was singing rehearsals. The members of the Watch had to sing a few verses of “All the Little Angels” – the marching song taught to the watchmen by Dai Dickens.
But, with some training by Richard Jackson, enough good singers to balance out those of us who weren’t so good i.e. me, and a guitar to get that first note, we managed it. And we sounded pretty good by the end.
“At one point during Act Two, several members of the cast had to hurtle from one side of the stage to the other via the back room.
Each night, before this happened, there’d be a cry of ‘clear the runway’ or similar, then watchmen, monks in bright orange robes, and a man with a tray full of fake pies would run in quick succession down a path cleared through the middle of the room.
I remember standing next to Terrance (Dr. Follet), who watched all this with a perfectly impassive expression. We then turned to each other and agreed that sometimes, life was deeply weird.”
— Loz (Dr. John “Mossy” Lawn)
When it came to the first day of show week, I’d started to get a little nervous. Thankfully the rest of the cast and their backstage shenanigans did away with any nerves pretty quickly.
One of the most satisfying things was, during a fight scene when I get winded by John Keel and go down like a sack of potatoes, there were audible gasps from the audience. Jes and I had practiced the fight numerous times, but it was great to get confirmation that it was believable.
Jes, ever the gentleman, always asked to make sure I was okay after the first act was over, as the smack sounded believably painful. Truth be told, by the end of the week I was becoming a tad tender in that area – totally worth it, though.
“One of the fight scenes saw Jes being knocked out by Moose (Sgt. Knock) towards the front of the stage. On one night, he was hit so hard that he knocked into the front row railings, causing the entire front row to spill their drinks!”
— John (Billy Wiglet)
After the first show was the traditional “first night meal” at the Irie Shack in Roath. It was quite odd to be eating goat curry at midnight, but it was delicious and the post-show buzz drove off any tiredness. Suffice to say I was chain-drinking coffee the following morning.
Day two saw a last minute change of cast, as John fell ill and couldn’t make the Thursday performance. Luckily, Lowri stepped in and not only managed to learn the entire part in a day, but did a great job of it too. Lowri was excellent as Magrat Garlick in the Witches plays, so she was more than up to the task.
We’d accidentally skipped one of my later scenes that night. Tyron, Moose and Josh as Quirke descended the stairs at the back of The Gate theatre towards the stage, the lights came up and the scene after ours started playing out.
It was too late to turn back, and we also needed to enter from the other side of the stage during that very scene, so instead we marched across the stage looking as menacing as possible before taking our positions.
I think we got away with it.
“Because we’d started that scene early, Craig wasn’t ready to go on during Nick (Reg Shoe)’s death. As he ran to come on stage, we stalled for time. As Craig entered the stage, Matt (Dibbler) shouted “Oh gods, it’s all gone wrong!” while still in character.
— Jes (Sam Vimes / John Keel)
Day three saw John’s return to the part of Nobby Nobbs, and he was on top form. That was also the night I’d got a laugh for one of my lines. Ned Coates is, on the whole, one of the more serious characters in Night Watch. He’s suspicious of everyone – especially Keel – and so there’s less room for funnies.
But my final line as Ned got a small giggle from the audience, which made me extra happy. I also had to stand frozen in time for a minute or so while the scene unfolded around me. It’s more difficult than it sounds!
We got our individual and group photos done that night too. Kudos to Craig for playing young Sam Vimes and then immediately afterwards doing the photography for the play. As you can see, the photos look fantastic!
The final day was a long one. As well as the evening performance, we did a mid-afternoon matinee. I was lucky in that I had large gaps between scenes, so I could sit and recover before going on again.
That was the intention at least. Instead, backstage was a mixture of dancing – notably the Winder Wiggle invented by Josh (Lord Winder), planting “Kick me” signs on one another’s backs and spending a large amount of time in fits of giggles, made worse by the fact that we couldn’t make too much noise during the play.
“As we got into position during one of the scene’s blackouts, the chair made a loud fart sound. Before I could react, the lights came up and the scene had started. It took all my resolve not to burst into laughter during the entire thing. I was no good to anyone afterwards – I spent the rest of the play backstage in fits of laughter!”
— Ben (Mr. Slant)
One of the more popular ways to pass the time between scenes was to stand either side of the “no man’s zone” (a strip of the backstage area that had to be kept clear for performers to rush from one side of the stage to the other) and played a version of Count to 20 where we’d try to duck in sequence rather than say numbers out loud.
We weren’t very good at it.
All for a good cause
As we took our final bows to the applause of the audience, director Amy and assistant director Ed took to the stage to announce how much the play had raised for ARUK.
Night Watch is by far the group’s most ambitious to date, both in terms of production and cast, and it paid off immensely. Night Watch raised over £4,000 for the charity, surpassing every other play so far and bringing their total raised to over £16,000.
So was it any good?
Unlike with previous productions, I missed out on the opportunity to watch Night Watch as a member of the audience, so I’ll let these reviews do the talking:
“They know Pratchett, they know Discworld, and they do an amazing job bringing it to life”.
— Wales Online
“If you love Terry Pratchett, go and see it!”
— CL Raven
“I absolutely loved the madness”.
— The Sprout
These past few months have been incredible. I’ve made a lot of new friends (who, I am happy to report, are all inclined to a little geekery), and I’ve helped raise money for a charity close to my heart. I wish I’d done it a lot sooner.
I’m grateful to Amy and Ed for giving me the chance to become a Monster (and to CL Raven for convincing me to audition!), and to all the other Monsters who made being a part of this play so enjoyable.
Monstrous Productions’ next play will be Eric in February 2016, and they’ll be taking Going Postal to the stage in August 2016.
Cast photos taken by Craig Harper, rehearsal photos taken by John Simpson and Katya Moskvina – used with permission.