Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Nation - the play

Nation by Terry Pratchett was the first non-Discworld book that the author has written in quite a long time, so I was fairly worried when I first picked up my copy. I really shouldn't have worried, it was excellent.

Nation, the play adapted by Mark Ravenhill from the book of the same name was the first play based on a Terry Pratchett book, Discworld or otherwise, I have seen, and I was most certainly worried. Maybe this was due to iffy reviews I had read, maybe it was because I tend to find novels turned into plays can be disasters (Note: seeing The Hobbit at the Eastbourne Congress next month – Nervous!), either way I was worried.

The first couple of scenes did little to alleviate my fears, with slightly wooden acting and, shock-horror, singing. Fortunately, my initial misconceptions were lifted as I found myself drawn into the world of Mau – a native of the Nation, the largest of the Islands – and Daphne, an aristocratic 13 year-old whose father is 139th in line to the throne, who has been ship wrecked on the Nation. Mau's people have been wiped out by the same storm that destroyed Daphne's ship, and together they must build a new Nation.

The play deviates from the book in a few ways. For instance Cox, the evil mutineer from the book has been transformed into a butler who is sent off the rails by the death of his son. This change, like most of the others, is welcome enough and does not effect the overall feel of the story. Another large difference is the ship's parrot, Milton, who in the book is a minor character who occasionally shouts “dirty knickers!” before disappearing for a few chapters. In the play Milton is transformed into the main supporting character, used for both comic relief and every once in a while for moving the plot on a little. The human-dressed-as-parrot aspect of the play was one of my biggest apprehensions – I really can't stand actors dressed up as animals (possibly brought on from being forced to sit through a truly awful adaptation of Orwell's Animal Farm when I was at school...) - but turned he out to be a likeable addition.

The first few scenes were a low point, the singing put me off and it took a bit of time to grasp what was happening, even though I had read the book and heard the excellent BBC audio play, but as it got into it and I realised there wasn't much singing I really came to love this adaptation of Nation – so much so that I found myself humming along to the song (one song repeated a few times throughout the play, by the way). The other low point of the play, I'm afraid to say, was the end. I felt everything that involved characters not on the Nation (namely Daphne's family) was not executed that well and the closing of the story felt very rushed. Fortunately this did not diminish from the overall excellence of Nation.

Highly Recommended.

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