‘Guards! Guards!’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 4, 2016

‘Guards! Guards!’ is a wild and fiendish, comedic plot by Terry Pratchett. This continuing adventure of dragons was Pratchett’s eighth Discworld novel. Published in 1989, this was the first novel about the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, and later became the idea behind the first Discworld computer game.

Innovative ARENAarts have brought Stephen Briggs’ amusing, stage adaptation of Pratchett’s much-loved, fantasy book to the Latvian Centre Theatre, 60 Cleaver Terrace in Belmont – no you aren’t in the wrong street! Plenty of free parking.

This progressive group are looking for directors – if you are inexperienced, they will guide you – and ideas for some challenging plays for 2017-18 seasons, anything from farce to heavy drama. Suggestions so far include Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, George A. Romeo’s ‘The Night of the Living Dead’, Roald Dahl’s ‘James and the Giant Peach’, Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’ (female version) and Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

This is ARENAart’s sixth, dastardly, Pratchett play and they have really conquered this genre, with each production getting better than the last. Great fun for the family.

The two-and-a-half hour performances are on Friday and Saturday nights at 8.00 until Saturday 5th November, with Sunday matinées on the 23rd 30th October and 6th November at 2.00 pm.

 

There are a couple of dozen scenes, varying from a castle battlement, several rooms, street scene, zoo etc., each represented with minimal – but very well presented – scenery and props (Set construction by Jim Chantry, adorned by scenic artists Kiri Vinsen, Sheila Wileman and Ashling Townsend, with the cast helping).

It was essential with so many scene changes that the stage team should be well focused and quick. Stage manager Janet Vinsen with her assistants Callum Vinsen and Sean Schliwa were magnificent. With an average of 5 – 8 seconds, the stage was transformed each time.

Josh Shoebridge and Simon Walters skilfully operated Simon James’ lighting and sound design. It was obvious that a great deal of thought and precision was put into the complex plan and operation.

     Young Footnote (Callum Vinsen), the narrator of the story, sets the scene, popping in now and again to clarify the action.

     One day, when 6 ft 3 inches (1.9 m) strong, fearless Carrot (Paul Davey) comes home from a day working in the mines, his 1 metre high father (Michael Moshos) takes him aside and explains to Carrot that he is not really a tall dwarf, but was found abandoned as a baby. Carrot, feeling the need to prove himself, goes to the big city of Ankh-Morpork to join the bold Guards.

   Guard Captain Vimes (Ron Arthurs) is drunk when Carrot arrives. Vimes has been letting things slip, and Carrot is a stickler for law and order.

   It is a miserable, wet night and Fingers (Sarah Langridge) is knocking on doors, trying to find where the underground gathering of the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night is being held. Eventually Doorkeeper (Susie Stevenson) admits Fingers to the secret meeting, where the Supreme Grand Master, Lupine Wonse – boo hiss (Brendan Ellis) explains that all of the Dragons are not really dead, and that according to legend, one is due to become King of the area. Lupine hopes that the Dragon will select him as his regal representative on Earth. As the meeting progresses, the coven – Varneshi (Natalie Djudjevic), Dunnykin (Tia Evers) and Watchtower (Rachael Leech) – dressed in green, crushed velvet capes, receive a threatening visit from the Body of Death (Jeremy Smith).

     Colon, the guard (Jim Chantry) lets it slip, that nearby there is a sanctuary for injured dragons run by Lady Sybil Ramkin (Lis Hoffman) and her small team of helpers (Tashie Baker, Michael Vinsen). Lady Sybil has a favourite dragon, an old, wise one with damaged wings called Errol.

     The local Patrician, Lord Vetinari (Andrew Smalley) is a nasty conman, trying to trick the citizens with dire deeds, but bold Discworld carrier (Bronny Baker) and Ridcully (Sean Schliwa) are fighting back.

     Will the dragon return? Will the evil Lords of the city keep control? There are two love affairs in the air.

 

Director and multi-tasker, Simon James, has presented this play in the style of a pantomime, aimed at 9 yrs. and up. It is quite dark in places, and the script is rich with puns, double-entendres and subtle jokes. The kids will miss at least half of the humour, but will love the special effects, excellent costumes (Janet Vinsen and armourer Callum Vinsen) and dragons.

There was a large cast, who were impressive and worked together with great chemistry. The delivery of the lines, humour and build-up of tension were all presented most proficiently. The main actors were superb, but even the ‘bit’ players gave it their best.

With so many players on stage, there can easily be pandemonium, with actors bumping into each other and fighting for exits – this team moved well, truly professional.

Josh Shoebridge and Kiri Vinsen created the magnificent robotic performers, Errol and other dragons. They really were ‘alive’, practically stealing the scene from the living actors.

At the interval, I enjoyed one of the best cups of community theatre coffee, yes, it was $2, but I would rather pay than have some of the anaemic, free, flavourless offerings at some venues.

Even on a Wednesday night, the show had almost a full house. Not many shows left, but try to catch this slick, hilarious family show. Many congratulations.