Mort - the Musical

Adapted from Terry Pratchett’s novel by librettist Jenifer Toksvig and composer Dominic Haslam
Youth Music Theatre UK
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.
(2008)

Death comes to us all eventually, but if you want to meet him ahead of time – and enjoy the experience – the place to go is the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre this week.

Librettist Jenifer Toksvig was thrilled to be commissioned to write a show for Youth Music Theatre UK, and even more thrilled when they gave her carte blanche to write whatever she wished - so what did she choose? Only what I would consider to be the most difficult of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books to stage – a fantastical tale of a world supported on the back of a giant turtle swimming endlessly through space, and peopled with wizards, witches, a magical flying horse and Death himself. . How can you possibly translate this crazy comical implausible Discworld novel into a show which will not only tell the story, but present it in a way which will entertain, and also show off the talents of every one of the thirty five performers? They have been chosen from country-wide auditions and are, says Toksvig “the cream of the crop and I don’t want to waste any of that”, so she tries to make sure that each and every one has a fulfilling experience and a chance to shine.

Well, all I can say is that cast and creative team have succeeded brilliantly, putting on a show which many a seasoned professional would envy, keeping Pratchett’s quirky comedy, enhancing it, and adding a little of their own. Maybe they were a trifle nervous at the beginning – opening song on opening night can be a bit daunting – but any initial tension disappeared in seconds and these talented teenagers kept the audience enthralled.

Even with a large cast, a multitude of characters meant there had to be a great deal of doubling up and also many scenes were of ‘multiple locations’ which together kept designer Sharon Davey frantically busy. I was particularly impressed too with the expertise of director Clive Paget and choreographer Lucie Pankhurst in their organisation of the busy crowd scenes, with every performer having their part to play, whether central to the plot or not. There are some lovely sketches here too with parents instructing their sons how to behave in the marketplace to impress prospective employers.

Poor Mort is the only one not to be chosen – until Death makes an appearance in search of an apprentice. Death is in the form of a black cloaked and hooded eight foot skeleton expertly managed by Daniel Hall, although as he gingerly approached a flight of steps the audience collectively held its breath, letting it out in a gale of laughter as he nearly toppled on the last one, emitting a sepulchral “Oh Bugger!” I’m still not sure whether this was a deliberate slip or not!

As the show progressed, and Death was attempting to experience human emotions, he became more ambitious – tried gambling, cooking, and dancing – even attempting a high kicking (well fairly high) number with four lovely dancers. There are some beautiful dancers in this show, some gorgeous singing voices too, and some exceptional acting. Jos Slovick is definitely one to watch out for in the future, playing Mort with sincerity, conviction and sympathy as his character progressed from humility to self-assertion, taking in infatuation and love along the way, but always with complete honesty.

Haslam’s music is as delightful as it is varied, from tender love songs to rousing choruses and mystical Latin wizardry, and swinging numbers for the first-rate dance sequences

Laura Woodward is a beautiful and arrogant Princess Keli – her dance with the ‘evil’ Duke certainly showed Benjamin Norris’s comic (and slightly camp) capabilities. Death’s daughter Ysabell progresses from petulance to comical romantic fantasies and finally tender true love in the hands of an enchanting Phoebe Fildes, while Marcus Dobson holds the story together as ‘the writer’ narrating the sequence of events

The show is truly magic, and hilariously so. It’s amazing how you can be drawn into the Discworld and almost begin to believe in it. Well worth seeing – and preferably more than once!

Read Sheila's interview with Jenifer Toksvig

Reviewer: Sheila Connor