The Fifth Elephant

(Brisbane Arts Theatre)


The Fifth Elephant features those things that make Terry Pratchett stories great. Reformed vampires, talking street dogs and feminist dwarfs all appear prominently in what is a successful attempt at capturing the imaginative and cartoon atmosphere of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Yet the stage adaptation by Stephen Briggs somewhat lacks the quantity of jokes and punch line moments that is needed in this kind of comedy.

The Fifth Elephant is the fifth instalment in Pratchett’s city watch series of Discworld novels. The characters involved in the production have grown and developed over many adventures, and some of the more subtle elements of humour are lost in the efforts to explain their histories and motivations. However, Gaspode (Leesa Connelly), the doggie narrator for the first half, succeeds in making the geography and history of the Discworld as clear as possible.

The story begins with chief of police and duke of Ankh-Morpork Sam Vimes (Colin Smith) travelling to the mysterious fat-rich country of Uberwald with a host of his fellow coppers, a clerk, and his wife. He is to appear as the Ankh-Morporkian ambassador at the coronation of the dwarven low king in order to secure trade deals with the nation. However a political scandal is revealed when the dwarven relic “the scone of stone” is stolen, and Vimes and his friends must endure the fiendish schemes of werewolves, vampires and dwarves to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Terry Pratchett is a master of the story arc, and all his works build up to an explosive climax with great viscosity. In her fourth production of Pratchett, director Sally Daly successfully transfers this story momentum to the stage. As a result, most of the funniest moments are in the latter half of the production when the groundwork of the narrative is laid and the silliness is allowed to let loose entirely.

Costume designer Robyn Edwards puts her art to great comedic effect. For example the character of Cheery Littlebottom (Susan O’Toole), a female dwarf who is rebelling against dwarven traditions of femininity, is portrayed very simplistically as a regular looking girl in high heels, a dress, and a massive plaited beard. The Fifth Elephant contains a huge diversity of fantasy characters and they are all brought wonderfully to life.

Performances by the main cast are mostly captivating, but one or two are fairly boring, and when these two levels of acting skill are both present on stage it becomes hard to suspend ones disbelief. Performances of particular note are by Colin Smith (Vimes), Francesca Gasteen (Lady Ramkin), Leesa Connelly (Gaspode), Stephen Davies (Captain Carrot), Dylan Roberts (Willikins) and Trevor Holland (Igor).

Congratulations also go to Karri Audsley, who has been involved in theatre for over ten years in backstage and front of house roles to debut successfully in The Fifth Elephant as the terrifying dwarf Albrecht Albrechtson, who spends most of his stage time screaming in a foreign tongue.

The Fifth Elephant is an altogether charming adaptation of Pratchett’s novel, but could be snappier with the humour for which the author is renowned and which audiences expect.

— Tom Guerney
(Performance seen: Thu 7th October 2004)