Reaper Man

Unseen Theatre at the Bakehouse Theatre, 20th Sept 2012

In Medieval Europe you might wander to the town square and watch a Morality play. These simply structured entertainments presented a mix of robust good humour and deep philosophical or religious concepts wrapped up in scenes that might be strung together by a narrator. You might find Death as one of the main characters amongst other universally understood characters that were larger than life but mixing it on stage with ordinary folk.

Reaper Man presented by Unseen Theatre Company at The Bakehouse Theatre is such a Morality play, and Death has a central role to play.

Death goes into retirement, and contemplates his end. But before this, he learns what it is like to be human, assisted by farmer woman Miss Flitworth. Now that there is a vacancy in the top job, the good citizens of Discworld face chaos, uncertainty, and... but that would be giving the story away.

Not being a Pratchett fan, I was suddenly in the middle of an almost full house of aficionados and sure to be in for a slow ride over the next two hours. I noticed that the rest of the audience positively vibrated with anticipation. So I sat back and let the ride engage me.

Surprise, surprise, suddenly it was interval and I found myself absorbed in some deep universal truths that were coming out of this almost rural, almost but not quite, medieval concept.

The Bakehouse, with its black walls and open playing space allows productions free range as far as sets go and Unseen takes every opportunity to utilise this freedom to the max. The set designers, Andrew Zeuner and Pamela Munt present a clear stage, a raised upstage platform, and several settings created by adding chairs, tables and other set pieces to the empty stage as required. Disconcerting at first with the stage crew lugging furniture in and out this soon becomes part of the norm. A criticism might be that some of the lugging was very loud.

The major scene defining element are the wonderfully luminous images projected onto the back wall. The image of the universe is spectacular. While Sir Terry Pratchett wrote the original novel, it’s to Pamela Munt as adaptor, director (with David Dyte) and producer that a great deal of the success of this production must be attributed. On the whole, the writing is crisp, direct, and delivers Pratchettʼs concepts with a mixture of good humour and real tension. The direction is tight and there are some truly touching scenes between Death and Miss Flitworth; between the Wizards and Windle; with the local villagers providing the connection with everyday life.

Some of the acting is of a variable standard and more than a little quirky, but there is no denying the quality of Hugh OʼConnorʼs fine performance as Death. OʼConnor makes the most of a very good part.

Other strong performances come from Leighton James as Windle Poons, Samm Blackmore as Footnote, Pamela Munt as Miss Flitworth and Paul Messenger as Auditor 1 and other characters.

The Lighting and Sound Design by Stephen Dean adds mightily to the production, although I felt that some of the sound seemed miscued. I put this down to deliberate Prachett pranking.

And the message from this cross between Middle Kingdom and Bottom World? Life is short; Death comes to all of us sooner or later; enjoy the journey while you can. This seems to be the essence of Sir Terry Pratchettʼs philosophy through his writing and even more so as he begins jousting with Alzheimerʼs. An authentic and well-crafted morality play.

Martin Christmas

When: to 29 September
Where: Bakehouse Theatre