REVIEW: Something wickedly funny this way comes in Wyrd Sisters

It’s not easy to successfully transform a fantasy novel for screen or stage, as the elements that create the fantastical world are often far more convincing in a reader’s mind. Add the reverence for the writer and you might just be setting yourself up for disaster.

“Wyrd Sisters,” which runs through Dec. 12 at the Walterdale Playhouse, is fortunately a worthy stage treatment of the sixth novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. It focuses on three witches – Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and the junior witch Magrat Garlick. The writer doesn’t even pretend that this isn’t a complete rip-off of “Macbeth,” with lines even pulled directly from Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, such as when the Fool hands a handkerchief to the delusional King, who then asks, “Is this a dagger I see before me?”

However, in standard Pratchett fashion, he has picked up the inspiration, flipped it upside down and shaken it vigorously, then added multiple levels of comedy – both dry and wet – with many references to other Shakespearean works as well as famous fairy tales. And since Terry Pratchett, whose style is often described as “British satirical fantasy,” does such a marvellous job with characterization, it translates fairly well to the stage – not to mention TV and radio – with the novel originally adapted by British playwright and Discworld “huckster” Steven Briggs.

This is a challenge for a volunteer theatre group. Many of the Walterdale cast seemed anxious at first, performing in front of an almost full theatre for opening night, but they all settled into their roles by the mid-point, with many performing multiple roles. The acting overall was solid, though of course there were some standout performances. Witch Magrat, as portrayed by Mandy Stewart, was probably the most notable. As her vibrant green dress stood out from her otherwise black-clad coven, so, too did her acting. She expertly weaved her way through every scene in the ever-changing role, playing the naïve witch when necessary, thrusting the perfect emotion into her comedic lines, and easily convincing the audience of her love for the Fool. (They eventually marry in a future book in the Discworld series, “Lords And Ladies,” but that’s another story. There are actually 38 other stories.)

The other remarkable performance was by Andrew Mecready, who played Duke Felmet. One can’t help but feel sorry for the Duke, obviously mentally ill, clearly delusional and in danger of harming himself, and even more obviously controlled by his Queen. His mental illness may have been brought on by killing his brother, a fact borne out early in the play; Mecready’s portrayal of gouging his hands, forever attempting to rid them of blood long since washed away, with knitting needles, a cheese grater, and whatever else was handy was the perfect portrayal of the over-top caricature crafted by the grand Terry Pratchett.

The climax at the end bound within the traditional Shakespearean element “play within the play” was slightly awkward, but that was by no means the fault of the cast. This fast-paced scene was difficult to grasp in the book itself, even when one has the opportunity to re-read it several times.

Overall, the large cast did a remarkable job bringing a beloved fantasy novel to life. Fine acting, superb sound direction, and a minimalist but well-used stage and props make this a highly entertaining show – one that’s sure to make almost everyone want to read the next book in the series (“Witches Abroad”) – if they haven’t already. Coming soon to a stage near you?