Three witches, cauldrons, murders in the line of succession, bloodstained hands, a ghostly king, a capering fool and conspiring nobility. Sound familiar? Wyrd Sisters leans heavily on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear, blending classic tragedy elements with the comedic mayhem of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. The tale of Lancre’s disputed line of succession unfolds on stage as witticisms and insights are fired at you with the speed and consistency of a Gatling gun, ensuring plenty of action, laughter and self-reflection. The scenes and settings swiftly move between Lancre Castle and its dungeons, Lancre town, surrounding villages and the witches’ cottage. All are brought to life with an inventive and versatile set design and many special effects that showcase the magic of theatre alongside that of the witches.
The play’s headliners are the three witches: the indomitable, elderly Granny Weatherwax (Melanie Sherwood), her close friend, Nanny Ogg (Liz Carroll) and their younger companion, Magrat Garlick (Yvonne Newton). The trio safeguard Lancre by confronting challenges with a mixture of headstrong compassion and unique magic called “headology”. Melanie Sherwood and Liz Carroll reprise their roles as Weatherwax and Ogg as they also played the witches in Progress Theatre’s previous Discworld production of Maskerade. The pair bring such confidence and authenticity to the characters, creating a lasting impression in the imagination of how a witch should be performed.
However, even the secondary characters are entertaining to watch on stage, from the brief appearance of the melodramatic, riddling Demon WxrtHltl-jwlpklz (George Prove) to the tinkling, capering Fool (Dean Stephenson) who surprisingly has some amusing and profound moments with his jokes that have more depth than it might first appear.
In fact, when the main and secondary characters come up on stage and interact with each other, the play is the perfect blend of fantasy, comedy and mystery with neither aspect overpowering the other.
Overall, Progress Theatre brings Pratchett’s creations to life with vivid hilarity in a production that does justice to its venerated source material without losing accessibility for viewers unfamiliar with Discworld.
Interview with director of Wyrd Sisters, Chris Moran:
Q: How did you get involved with theatre and what has been a particular highlight?
A: I saw a play when I was very young and knew what I wanted to do with my life, so I went to university and drama school and then started working as a playwright. I now have a theatre company that performs at fringe festivals and I’ve been at Progress Theatre since 1991, directing for 21 years. My highlights are working with fantasy themes, bringing a new world to life on stage. Wyrd Sisters is my fourth Pratchett production, after Going Postal in 2010, The Fifth Elephant in 2013 and Maskerade two years ago, where I fell in love with the witches and wanted to tell another story with them.
Q: What is it about Pratchett’s books that makes them so effective on stage?
A: There’s lots of scope to be creative, particularly when crafting the main location for the setting. For Maskerade it was an opera house, for Wyrd Sisters it’s a castle, which facilitates transitions into other scenes such as a forest or the streets. The broad scope of Discworld provides a useful canvas to draw your own ideas on, but also has details that fans of Pratchett will expect to see.
Q: What opportunities are there for University of Reading students to get involved with Progress Theatre?
A: We definitely welcome students, auditions are open to everyone and membership fees are only paid if you are cast in a role. University students have often appeared in plays, four of the cast for Wyrd Sisters have links to the university. There are also opportunities to work with sound and lighting or backstage. We’ve also offered work experience or helped students with research projects.
Q: How does theatre offer a unique experience in a modern entertainment market full of films, TV and video games?
A: The theatre is a more immediate, intimate space where you share the room with the actors. Often, entertainment now is not single focus, people are watching TV while browsing on Facebook, and so their attention is diverted, especially when they can now stop, pause or binge watch shows whenever they want. Theatre makes a unique connection, where you have to turn up at a specific time and have an immediate response to what’s happening. Theatre is for everyone, especially Pratchett. It’s not highbrow so it can be enjoyed by all.
More information on Progress Theatre:
Progress Theatre is self-governing, self-funding and situated at only a five-minutes walk away from the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus. With 96 seats, the theatre feels intimate but not small or cramped, and as the majority of productions sell out, a good audience atmosphere is guaranteed. It also has a fully-licensed bar with very reasonably-priced drinks and snacks.
More importantly, the theatre has a strong, rewarding and long-established relationship with the University of Reading as some of the university’s alumni and staff act in their productions. Even the Wyrd Sisters production has some university alumni and staff: Yvonne Newton and Iesa Kahn (playing multiple characters) are alumni of the Department of Film, Theatre and Television with Yvonne now working in the University of Reading’s Content Team; Adam Lines (playing Vittoler and others) works in the university’s Global Recruitment and Admissions Team; and Joseph Morbey (playing Hwel and others) is an alumnus of Theatre Arts, Education and Deaf Studies and was active in the university’s drama society.
So with Progress Theatre’s outstanding performances and proximity to the university, it should definitely be on your radar if you’re interested in theatre or in having a good evening’s entertainment.