Thursday, 24 June 2021

High fantasy hits the high notes in Pratchett's comic opera romp

High fantasy hits the high notes in Pratchett's comic opera romp

Maskerade | Progress Theatre, Reading | Wednesday, January 17

IF you have an appetite for witches, ghosts, opera, murder mystery and mischief, then Maskerade is a show for you. This is high fantasy by Terry Pratchett, adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs.

The narrative centres on an opera house. Witches Granny Weatherwax (Melanie Sherwood) and Nanny Ogg (Liz Carroll) go on a quest to find local girl Agnes Nitt (Lilla Killaspy), who has joined the opera company.

But there’s trouble at the opera house — a mysterious phantom of the opera is on a killing spree. The witches get drawn into solving the mystery.

An inventive set design makes us believe we are there, in the opera house, complete with ornate chandelier and plush boxes from which, at times, characters can observe what’s supposedly going on below, on the opera stage. We are presented with a theatre within a theatre.

The production has been staged with loving attention to detail by director Chris Moran. Sound engineer Stuart McCubbin has been busy providing opera clips, in conjunction with an opera consultant, Caroline Carragher, who offered advice and provided the singing voice of Agnes. Linda Bostock’s costumes are eye-catching also, so Maskerade is a treat for the eyes and the ears.

A confident cast with great comic talent drives the production forward with energy and gusto. Liz Carroll and Melanie Sherwood have the audience in their power as the funny and formidable witches.

Amongst many other strong performances, I adored Trevor Dale as the “luvvie” director Mr Salzella, Ben May as the beleaguered opera house proprietor and Rebecca Douglas in her great comic turn as the vain and flaky Christine.

Dan Bignell deserves special mention as Dr Underschaft, not least because he sings so well. He also makes a very convincing catman, Greebo.

The passion of the opera combines with a bundle of laughs in a very enjoyable comic romp that works up to a swashbuckling finale.

Until Saturday.

Susan Creed

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