DSP's 'Wyrd Sisters' - it takes a family of the committed

WYRD SISTERS by Terry Pratchett
Durham Shoestring Performers
Adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs
Produced by Carolyn Wilson and directed by Doug Craven
November 9, 10, 11 and 12, 2016 at 8:00 pm.

As the Stratford Festival’s stunning production of MACBETH closes, Oshawa’s Durham Shoestring Performers continues the story line of the ‘wyrd sisters’ for this week. I must confess that I wasn’t intrigued by Stephen Briggs’ adapation the first time I had read Wyrd Sisters, but I did develop a keener interest later as the plot borrows from a number of other sources including two perennial school favourites: King Lear and Hamlet.

A second reading of the text earlier this summer plus seeing the solid opening night performance has convinced me that this tale of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is fun both for the actors and for the audience.

This story finds a wicked duke and duchess (Dean Leblanc and Deborah Lobban), their Fool (Ben Brewer), a ghost of the murdered king (Garret Lee), the presence of Death (Andra Kelly), dim soldiers (David Ross, Arianna Fuke, Michael Peever, William Wallace, Carly Midgley, Nicole Hart), strolling players (Michael Peever, Marisa Camazzola, Carly Midgley, Krys Clarke, Patricia Wisniweski, Arianna Fuke, David Ross, William Wallace) and a land in peril. And who stands between the Kingdom and destruction? Three witches - Granny Weatherwax (Carol Doughty) Nanny Ogg (Gerri Sefi) and Magrat Garlick (Lyndsay Hamilton).

In order to create a fantastical and whimsical environment for a live theatre audience, a great deal of preparation must be taken before hand on many levels. I am always amazed at what the Shoestring Performers can produce and present in the intimate performance venue of the Arts Resource Centre. Melanie Baker and Doug Craven’s set design is solidly functional with use of levels and a ramp. What is most impressive about this set is Melanie Baker and her team of set decorators who have, I’m sure, painstakingly painted the set with specific nuanced shapes and sizes.

For the most part, the lighting design and operation is smooth but there were moments when cues were either possibly slow or the actor might not have found the ‘hot spot’ the moment the cue occurred. As performances continue, I’m sure this very small quibble will be rectified.

Costumes by Carolyn Wilson and the company were effectively colourful for Pratchett’s Discworld. There were some interesting musical selections used during scene changes, but there were a couple of moments that could have used either music or perhaps some kind of distraction while we did not have to sit in quiet as the set is changed.

The diverse cast of eighteen actors, some who are making their debut on stage of the Arts Resource Centre, tackle this tale with much energy since this ‘take’ on Shakespeare’s Macbeth requires concentration, focus and stamina.

From the opening night performance, all have gelled nicely to create a variety of engaging characters, especially those who perform three or more roles.

Bravo to Doug Craven and Carolyn Wilson for casting new faces who, I hope, will return to the Durham Region stages in the near future. Space does not allow me to address each of them individually, but there were some moments I’d like to mention.

Deborah Lobban and Dean Leblanc grab hold as the evil Lady Felmet and her husband, the Duke (a take on Lady Macbeth and her husband). In this production, Ms. Lobban’s costume and make up remind us of Sweeney Todd’s Mrs. Lovett (an interesting hypothesis if this was intended). It’s rather amusing to watch Mr. Leblanc and what occurs as the physical blood on his hands becomes thicker and thicker while he tries to remove the stain. It’s also funny to see how he tries to remove the blood with a fork. Mr. Leblanc’s wheelchair also becomes an important prop throughout his performance.

Gerri Sefi is a hoot and a riot as the vulgar Nanny Ogg who entertains us with a ribald song at intermission (which had to be toned down for younger audiences). Lyndsay Hamilton as the naïve Magrat Garlick is very sweet and her ‘coming of age’ kiss with the young Fool (a likeable Ben Brewer) warms the heart before the intermission. Carol Doughty is matronly as the ‘mistress’ of the coven, Granny Weathewax. Ms. Doughty’s glass eyed stare during the conjuring spells are most enjoyable.

By writing these commentaries over the last two years, I have come to appreciate how much selfless work of others goes into a community theatre production. It’s not only the actors that receive the applause but also those behind the scenes who are deserving of such recognition. Go see Wyrd Sisters and the spirit of true community theatre in action.