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Greater London
posted/updated: 03 Oct 2011 -
MORT the Musical
Jenifer Toksvig and Dominic Haslam
society/company: Youth Music Theatre UK
performance date: 12 Aug 2011
venue: Greenwich Theatre, London
reviewer/s: Cathryn Short (Independent review)

Adapting any well-loved book into a stage musical is always a challenge but the quality of Jenifer Toksvig’s adaptation and Dominic Haslam’s music is such that this production was gripping from the start. With beautifully performed chorus numbers such as ‘Time Gentlemen Please’ and the humorous yet touching letter-writing song, this was a strong ensemble piece which knew how best to use the talents of everyone involved. The songs explored different musical genres and used techniques such as counterpoint to tremendous effect, whilst the dialogue and lyrics conveyed the book’s humour and Discworld in-jokes.

The creators of this production, both writing and directorial teams, obviously have a great respect for Terry Pratchett’s original novel and any changes which were made to content or plot have been done with care to enhance the practicality of live performance – the challenge of having a 7ft/8ft-high skeleton singing and dancing around the stage, not to mention his flying steed Binky were impressively handled with puppets created by Richard Johnston.

Mort (Ryan Heenan) was instantly likeable in his performance and delivered songs and dialogue with sincerity and precision. Death (Edward Court) managed to bring out the humanity in this complex character, dutifully assisted by his servant Albert (Geoffrey Mullen) who deserves a special mention for the fabulous Rite of AshkEnte.

Ysabell (Courtenay Johnson) transformed beautifully from the petulant adopted daughter to the amiable love interest and showed great comic timing. Princess Keli (Mary-Jean Caldwell) skilfully produced a combined sense of vulnerability and royal stature in the face of assassination, whilst the Duke of Sto Helit (Thomas Kitney) was delightfully malevolent – their tango-duet was an amusingly played tour de force. Special mentions too go to Lezek (Mort’s father played by Jack Feureisen), Emma the servant and Ammeline Hamstring (Kate Millington) as key supporting cast.

The set was simple but incredibly effective, using barrow-stalls to create different environments, with the ensemble managing the set-changes swiftly and competently. The best way to describe the production is ‘slick’, everything was so obviously well-rehearsed and the commitment from the cast was palpable. The use of tiny hand-held blue lights throughout to signify stars or the spirit leaving the various deceased worked well, particularly with many of the performers seemingly having mastered slight-of-hand to conceal the lights – this truly added to the magic of the show.

The entire cast was incredibly strong and it inspires great hope that the future of musical theatre in this country lies in talented youth coming into the industry. This production is a must for Pratchett fans and musical fans alike - a thoroughly enjoyable evening, do try and catch the last performance tonight (13th August) if you can.

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