Review: Mort

Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.

Mort is based on the fourth novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs. It tells the story of Death’s apprentice, Mort, as he navigates his new job. His first night alone goes drastically wrong, threatening the very existence of future reality. It’s a satirical play, full of the fantasy tropes, continuous gags and quirks that one might expect from a Terry Pratchett tale.

It should be said that the performance is a bit like marmite. It verges on the farcical, leans too close to pantomime and slapstick, before falling over the ledge entirely. Good dialogue is at times delivered too forcefully, or not forcefully enough. Indeed, theatre with such a fantastical feel makes believable acting trickier to pull off as a whole.

The character of Death himself, played by John Duffet, is a constant source of comedy and the standout performance of the piece. Rendered as the classic Grim Reaper figure- Death’s booming voice delivers comic lines successfully and receives the most laughter. Realising he’s been summoned by a group of wicked wizards, Death’s echoing “Bugger!” is a particular highlight. Ruth Louis as Ysabell accurately captures teenage angst and gives a good narration when her time comes, although the romantic relationship between her and Alistair Hall’s Mort feels like a predictable progression and lacks any noticeable emotional grounding.

Kyle Kirkpatrick and Abbie Priestley fulfil the supporting roles well, and don’t fall prey to the fumbling and overlapping which is particularly rampant throughout the second half. Whilst a fair few lines and characters that are looking for laughs fall short, some elicit a brilliant reaction. A herald with an alarmingly high-pitched voice squeaks ‘9 o’clock and all is well!’ on repeat, a doorknocker has a very sassy character inside, and a funny old Abbot refers to his multiple reincarnations as a season ticket for death. Various hits and slaps are so unconvincing that even they gain some extra chuckles. The costumes are a bit garish but, as with the very simple staging, there aren’t meant to be any illusions there. If anything, it’s a self-aware performance- a lighting mishap breaks the fourth wall instantly.

Lighting across the performance is always noticeable, if not always for the right reasons. The glowing reds and blues and whites as a character dies in slow motion are effective, as are the individual spotlights during narration. Unfortunately, the spotlight effect is not consistently maintained, and as mentioned, lighting blips do occur, although this could be put down to first night teething problems.

The staging itself is done well considering the amount of changes which are required. A downfall being backstage lighting illuminating everyone coming on and off the stage during blackouts.

Effectively, the blue LEDs which remained on during the blackouts created the continuous and ever-looming presence of Death throughout the performance.  The music in between many changeovers feels like it has been somewhat clunkily inserted, but its use in the performance worked well. 

Although the production is rough around the edges, and a real matter of personal taste, there is decent entertainment value and evidently a lot of hard work put into the complex structure of the piece. An enjoyable night for any fan of Terry Pratchett, or someone with an open mind who wants to enjoy a light-hearted performance and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Mort is on at 7.30pm, 22nd– 23rd February at the Luce Theatre in Durham School.

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