The first ever professional stage production of a Discworld novel hits the UK this spring. Guards! Guards! begins a three-month national tour at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool on 18th March 1998.

I spoke to the man who adapted Guards! Guards! for the stage, Geoffrey Cush, shortly before rehearsals began. We met at the Hackney Empire, one of the first venues for the tour, and his enthusiasm for the building was obvious. "This is one of several beautiful Victorian theatres which our tour will be visiting," he told me, "although this is the only one that has not been refurbished or remodelled. It's perfect for the play - we're tempted to put a large sign saying 'Ankh-Morpork Opera House' above the door."

I asked Geoffrey how he came to be involved in a Discworld play. "I hadn't adapted any similar projects before - rather, works of comparable difficulty. Two years ago, I worked on an open-air production of The Three Musketeers. The producer asked if I had read any Pratchett, which at the time I had not." When the chance to present a Fringe production came along, a quick decision was needed on which play to show. "We needed something with the level of spectacle of The Three Musketeers." And so Guards! Guards! was chosen. "They are both big pieces, and very challenging to present." Geoffrey added.

But what will make this Discworld play different from all the amateur productions that have gone before? Geoffrey said: "'amateur' - that's the key point. It has a different dynamic. In an am-dram production, as many of the cast members have to be used as possible, but our cast list reduces the number of characters who appear on stage. A professional production like ours must choose its actors carefully and use them to best advantage. You have a 'Chinese puzzle' of doubling." The cast has been handpicked and makes impressive reading. Most notable among the actors are, of course, Paul Darrow (Avon in Blake's 7) as Vimes, David Brett (of 'The Flying Pickets' fame) as Nobby, and Nick Conway (Billy Boswell in Bread).

I tried to find out how the scenes involving the dragon would be handled, but Geoffrey was giving nothing away. "Endless amounts of money can be spent on effects, but it's more important to use the audience's own imagination. There will be some surprises, though...". He wouldn't be drawn into revealing any more than that.

Has Terry become involved in the project? "Definitely," Geoffrey told me. "After the Fringe production, Terry heard that we wanted to do it again, and read the script. At that time, we had dropped Nobby from the play. He wasn't crucial to the plot of Guards! Guards!, but of course he becomes a well-loved character in later novels. It was a dreadful mistake, and we got a letter from Terry saying 'Nobby's back, okay?'. So he is, and all the guards just about fit on the stage."

Finally, I asked Geoffrey what he liked about Terry's writing. "It's relevant to what's happening now. Terry is obviously news- and computer-literate, and such things come through in his books, as does his social conscience and sense of outrage at life's injustices. Also, his writing appeals to an English sensibility. It describes an unstable world - blasted apart by magic, much as ours is by nuclear energy - and how the inhabitants deal with it. People are invited to accept adversity; Death, for example, is made palatable without lies, without making us feel falsely secure."

Geoffrey is keen to bring Discworld to new audiences. He told me: "I am now familiar with the Discworld, but when I wrote the adaptation I was not. We see ourselves as providing guidance on something we ourselves don't know well. 'In-jokes' which those new to the Discworld won't understand are avoided - for example, we removed the 'Learn The Words' sign from the scene where Vimes is in the palace dungeon."

Geoffrey is confident that the production will be a success, and will appeal to both Discworld fans and those who've not yet read the books. If it does receive a good response from the Discettes, I believe we could persuade him to make an appearance at the Convention. So see the play, and applaud long and loudly...

As the first performance drew near, I managed to catch up with Paul Darrow during rehearsals and have a quick chat with him. He was as charming as I'd hoped. "Rehearsals are going very well," he told me. "In fact, we're even ahead of schedule. This afternoon we're running through the whole of Act One for the very first time - it should be interesting."

This dragon's loaded...

I asked Paul what he likes about Sam Vimes. "He's laid-back and very centred," he said. "He's amiable, but tough. Something like an Eastwood or a Bogart character - he's seen life, and it holds no surprises for him any more. I admire his coolness and his truthfulness." And Vimes' bad points? "Well, of course, he drinks too much."

I wondered what Paul thinks of Terry's writing. "I like Terry's use of filmic references - he's obviously a big fan of the cinema. We're probably of similar ages, so I know exactly what he's talking about. His work is very different from other writers' - and, of course, it's a fantastic success."

Paul told me about the other projects he'd been working on recently. "I've worked on a couple of CDROM games in recent months. One is War of the Worlds, in which I play the Martian General. The other is Queen: The Eye - I actually wrote the novelisation of this game." Paul also featured in a brand new Blake's 7 radio production, which was broadcast not long ago.

Before the battery on Paul's mobile phone died completely, I enquired whether he was looking forward to the tour. "So far I'm enjoying it," he said, "otherwise I wouldn't do it at all. It's a funny part, and Vimes has some really good lines. The tour will be visiting many nice places with lovely theatres. I am sure it'll be a great success."

Karen Kruzycka

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May 1998