WYRD SISTERS – THE MUSICAL
by Guy Turner
In 1993 I was living in Yeovil, Somerset. One evening there was ‘An Evening with Terry Practchett’ at one of the local secondary schools, and as I was already playing with the idea of adapting Wyrd Sisters as a musical, I went along.
Needless to say Terry was a most entertaining speaker, and at the end I asked him if he would consider allowing me to adapt the book. He clearly doubted that I would go through with it, but he agreed. His fee for this was one bottle of white wine and two tickets for one of the performances. The agreement was that there would be one production only, and after that any further development would have to be discussed with him and his agent.
Over the next eighteen months I worked on the adaptation. Firstly I pasted a copy of every page the book into a scrapbook and highlighted all the plot points and all the good jokes that should not be missed out. In some cases there were good jokes in scenes for which there was not room in a 150 minute show, so I had to move them to other scenes.
Once the script was done I set to writing the songs (sixteen) and incidental music, completing this by Christmas 1994.
I was working at Yeovil College, which had lots of talented 16-18 year old students and a terrific performing arts department, and, having persuaded a colleague who was an inspiration director to come on board, we managed to cast a superb team of forty or so students to take part – quite the best cast I could have hoped for. Members of the cast also took on production roles – Tomjon designed the set, and Granny Weatherwax designed the costumes. We all worked full time on the show for the first half of July 1995 and the show was staged in Yeovil College Hall from 12th to 15th July.
Terry and Lyn Pratchett came to the opening night. I met them in the carpark and as I was taking them through to the hall I mentioned that Wendy, the girl playing Granny Weatherwax, was really quite ill, but was determined not to miss performing that night. As we met the cast, Terry checked out the costumes, and, without being introduced, went straight to Wendy and said how sorry he was she was not feeling well (Wendy performed brilliantly, but went straight from that performance to hospital and an understudy played Granny for the subsequent performances.) Terry spent a lot of time chatting to all the cast, and putting up with photographs – he was very kind to all of us, and very interested in the process of adaptation and production.
As the show was done in a smallish space (with only piano, harpsichord and percussion as the band), the cast did not need to be miked up. However, we did use a microphone (with massive reverb naturally) for Death. At the end of the bows, Death crossed the stage, looked into the audience, pointed at Terry and said, ‘YOU!’ After a pause, he then introduced Terry to the audience, for his own round of applause.
This production was the only one – there was no prospect of publication, and I moved on to other projects. I still have the script and score, and the DVD is in the Practchett archive. But adapting and performing the show was one of the most enjoyable things I have done. Many of the songs have ‘escaped’ into other shows.
There is something about Wyrd Sisters – all the Discworld books are hilarious and wonderful, but as well as being the first book to become a musical, it was also the first to be adapted for radio, the first cartoon, and indeed the first of Stephen Briggs’s well known stage adaptations. Quite a record.
And meeting Terry was a real treat – fiercely intelligent, very funny, with no ego, and a genuine interest in everyone he met.
By chance (or perhaps geekiness) I discovered the little known fact that a musical had been made for Wyrd Sisters. Through a little digging, I discovered Mr. Turner’s email-address, and asked him if he was “the Guy Turner” who had written this musical. He was, and, lo and behold, Mr. Turner agreed to write about his experience. I am beyond thrilled to be able to share this with you.
A GIGANTIC thanks to Mr. Turner.
- Chinese: 死神学徒
- German: Mort : der Scheibenwelt-Comic
- Hungarian: Mort, a halál kisinasa
- Russian: Mор ученик смерти
Terry Pratchett’s Mort: The Play was adapted for the theatre stage by Stephen Briggs in 1996. As usual Griffin Youth Theatre at Rothetham Arts Centre were first out with Mr. Briggs’/Pratchett’s play. It has since been played as far away as Tasmania and Chicago and as close as Netherlands, Spain and Cumberland.
In 2005 an odd production was set up by MADSODS in New Zealand featuring nine synthetic actors. In October 2008 the audience were encouraged to get into the Halloween spirit and come in fancy dress when the York Rising Stars played Mort at the York Railway Institute, Queen Street, York. At the Toronto Fringe Festival, in 2012, the audience moved through different areas, with the players from Socratic Theatre Collective in an attempt to create “the sense that they are journeying with us through the Discworld”
Today, 2015 Aug 22, another production begins at Brisbane Arts Theatre in Australia.
There was also a stage adaptation by Messrs Richard John Artley and Syddall that was set up in Cambridge in November 1996.
A list over the various showings can be found on L-Space.
The students from Orange Cow Productions were fortunate when they made their unofficial animation of Mort during spring semester of 2001. Terry Pratchett’s comment was:
“Wow! So you made a kind of movie of my book without asking me and now some damn university thinks they own all the rights to it? Really? Sounds like a great day in court!
It sounds like fun, but even so, I don’t want to see it. You’ll probably look back on it in years to come and wish you hadn’t shown me. Let it remains to glitter unseen.
– Terry Pratchett”
‘s Robin Brook wrote a radio adaptation of “Mort” in four episodes in 2004. It was narrated by Anton Lesser, with Geoffrey Whitehead as Death, Carl Prekopp as Mort, Clare Corbett as Ysabell and Alice Hart as Princess Keli. The first episode aired June 15, 2004. Mort has reappeared on BBC at regular intervals: 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The latest reading began April 20, 2015.
In 2007 Mort, The Musical came into being through the hands of librettist Jenifer Toksvig and composer Dominic Haslam. That same year one of the songs was featured in the Stephen Sondheim competition. Together with the Youth Music Theatre from Manchester, England their concept has been developed from its inception in August 2007. A trailer from the 2011 production can be seen on youtube.
Also in 2007, a German version of the musical, Mort: Das Musical, was adapted and directed by Sabine Schindler and its music composed Matthias Weiher. It was shown at the Markthalle (Klosterwall 11) in Hamburg.
In 2010 Ron Clements and John Musker started work on an animated adaptation of Mort. But their project fell through when Pratchett in 2011 took out a writ against Paul Bamborough and Camel Productions, who had an option on film rights for the fantasy, arguing that the rights ran out.
One of the reasons I usually refuse to watch movie/television versions of books has to do with the inevitable deviations. If the director/producer did not deviate from the books, budgets and length of the movie would be overwhelming. In the case The Light Fantastic and Colour of Magic, changes in the television movie kept to the “spirit” of the story of Twoflower, Rincewind and the Luggage.
Episode II begins with Rincewind being saved by the Octavo. You see, the Octavo needs that eighth spell in Rincewind’s head so it might assist the Turtle in its purpose. The Octavo prefers Rincewind as keeper of the eighth spell rather than Tryman. Tryman’s obsession with the Octavo worries the Octavo.
Cohen the Barbarian makes his first appearance in this film. He is one of the most charming characters of the Discworld. David Bradley, as Cohen, was an inspired choice. He and Tennant were the best fits for their roles, in my opinion. The only problem Bradley had with his role, was his teeth. Cohen is not supposed to have teeth for most of the story. However we see teeth long before their arrival time. As usual, I find this kind of spoof quite funny.
Death’s house/property had the right feel to it. I got that sense of different shades of black and grey that The Light Fantastic talks about. This scene was the only one that threw me due to it being completely different to the book. Perhaps this was why Rincewind did not seem as frightened as he should. Sean Astin was just as oblivious in the movie as Twoflower is in the book. Using the stereotype US tourist for Twoflower continues to agree with me.
As with Episode I, I felt the final product seemed kind of half-hearted. In trying to figure out why, I think my conclusion is that it must be cutting that is the problem. Sadly, Vadim has given a cut-and-paste feel to much of this movie.
In spite of my protestations, The Colour of Magic, Episode II is a fair enough production. Perhaps never having read the stories would have been an advantage. It often seems that way to me.
- David Jason as Rincewind, a failed wizard and the main protagonist.
- Sean Astin as Twoflower, the Discworld’s first tourist.
- Tim Curry as Trymon, the power-hungry senior wizard at the Unseen University.
- Christopher Lee as the voice of Death.
- David Bradley as Cohen the Barbarian, the most famous barbarian in the Discworld, now ‘retired’.
- Laura Haddock as Bethan, a druid sacrifice, who falls in love with Cohen.
- Nicolas Tennant as Head Librarian of the Unseen University, who becomes an orangutan during the events of the film.
- Liz May Brice as Herrena, a mercenary who is employed to capture Rincewind.
- Richard Da Costa as The Luggage.
- Toby Jones as one of the heads of the eight orders of Wizardry. (Wikipedia)
“The Matthew, the replica of the ship John Cabot sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1496″, was used for sequences in the Colour of Magic TV film. (BBC News)
Nominated for the BAFTA TV Award for best television effects