Carpe Jugulum

(Brisbane Arts Theatre)


Set in author Terry Pratchett’s fantasy Discworld, Carpe Jugulum is an amusing play about vampires, witches and other supernatural characters who all have very human foibles.

Take the hunchback Igor (Greg Rowbotham) for instance. He feels unappreciated his new employers, the vampire De Magpyrs family, who have no respect for tradition. They want to live in a clean castle, aren’t afraid of holy water or garlic and, worst of all, want Igor to stop dragging his leg and walk normally.

So Igor spends much time waxing lyrical about his previous employer, the Old Count (Ian Rennie), who used to whip him daily and live in a castle full of spider-webs and dust.

The story begins with social climbing De Magpyrs heading towards the kingdom of Lancre for a christening, with a secret plan to install themselves as rulers. The only people standing in their way are the Lancre Witches, who have to sort out their own issues before they can do anything about the vampires. They must decide who will be the old crone now that the existing crone, Granny Weatherwax (Jeni Godwin) has gone missing; and the young, shy and overweight witch Agnes (Katherine Kiogaard) must learn how to deal with the bitchy, stuck-up thin girl Perdita (Lauren Dillon) who lives inside her. Adding to Agnes’s woes is the fact only she can see or hear Perdita.

Into this mix comes the priest Mightily Oats (Marselan Wignall) who wants to help stop the vampires, but is hopelessly flaky. During the christening scene he reads out a crib note when it comes to naming the baby, and the poor thing ends up having “Note Spelling” as two of its names.

Not that the vampire family is without their own problems. The Count (Paul Brown) wants to modernise his family and become a part of polite society. But he and the Countess (Natalie Bochenski) spend most of their time reining in their sadistic daughter Lacrimosa (Genevieve Langbien) who wants torture or kill anyone who gets near her. And their son, Vlad (Timothy Wotherspoon), is not much more help either. He is more interested in trying to charm Agnes than helping dad take care of the tiresome business of ruling a kingdom.

The end result is this family of killers is amusing and charming and as dysfunctional as any other family human or otherwise.

One of the problems with a play this well produced and acted is that it’s hard to pick out standout performances. For my money, it’s Greg Rowbotham’s Igor who is the scene-stealer. Throughout the play his comic timing as is perfect as he tries vainly to get the De Magpyrs to maintain vampire traditions.

Another two actors who give standout performances are Katherine Kiogaard as Agnes and Lauren Dillon as her inner thin girl Perdita. Their constant bickering about what to do in each situation is by turns charming and amusing. The play also has very high production values with excellent costumes by Robyn Edwards and a simple and functional set design by Jackie Fraser. In addition Casey Moon-Watton provides appropriately cheesy music, in keeping with the light tone of the play.

The direction, by Sally Daly, is slow at first but picks up pace halfway through the first act and doesn’t let up until the play ends. The Terry Pratchett story, adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs, is entertaining and amusing but at three and a half hours (with only one intermission) is way too long. This problem is compounded by the parts of play with a disconcerting, and seemingly unnecessary, number of scene shifts.

These are small problems though, for Carpe Jugulum is an amusing play that is well acted and very, very funny. And any cast that can keep that enthusiasm and energy up for such a long running time deserves kudos not to mention a large audience.

— Edmund Tadros
(Performance seen: Tue 21st October 2003)