Review of The Last Continent by Barry Lenny

Reviewer: Barry Lenny
First published in: GLAM
Date of review: 10 October 2009

After much urging, from just about everybody, Pamela Munt, the Artistic Director of the Company, has finally taken the plunge and, instead of trying to make one of Stephen Briggs’s unworkable scripts come together as a performance, she has talked Sir Terry Pratchett into allowing her to adapt his 22nd novel in the Discworld series. Written in 1998, this one is set largely in the drought-ridden land of XXXX, generally referred to as Fourecks, where rain is an alien concept, sitting neatly under the heading of Myths and Legends.

Fourecks, which bears a rather remarkable resemblance to Australia, but is nothing at all like it, honestly, is a land where the flora and fauna are deadly, everything is likely to be detrimental to your health, especially the beer, and even the underground water sources seem to be failing. Completely off topic, of course, but Queenslanders are reputed to drink XXXX because they can’t spell BEER.

At the end of Interesting Times, Pratchett’s 17th novel, and the fifth focussing on the misadventures of the inept wizard, Rincewind, our antihero was accidentally transported to this mysterious continent instead of being returned to the Unseen University. It appears that his presence there may be a part of the problem, as the continent now seems to be dying faster than it is being created.

Assisted by Scrappy (the bush kangaroo) it seems that Rincewind is destined to put things to rights as it is he, we learn, who has caused the rain to cease falling. Scrappy, who is more than a little reminiscent of the Norse god of chaos, Loki, was sent by the rather ditzy god who created XXXX to guide Rincewind in his task to bring back “The Wet” and save the continent.

Incompetence builds upon incompetence and we have a typical Pratchett scenario where, in spite of the dubious, hopeless characters involved, everything eventually works out for the best; somehow. Never ask how: the answer will only confuse you further, if the plot has not already done so.

Time, space and relativity are, to say the least, ambivalent, even dismissive, of the normal laws under which they are expected to function. The Librarian of the Unseen University, now an orang-utan, must be consulted, but the most senior wizards need to know his real name to conjure him. Rincewind might know the Librarian’s name, but he needs to be found. He is known to be in XXXX, a place that is not accepted as existing, but is known to be out there, somewhere. There is only one man who can tell them where it is.

They turn to the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography, but he is missing, and his room, being somewhat akin to Dr. Who’s Tardis, leaves them wondering, until they realise that he has popped out of the window into another time and space. The most senior wizards of the university follow but Mrs. Whitlow, the maid, accidentally kicks aside the piece of wood holding the window open, stranding them wherever it is that they might be. Mrs. Whitlow then explains sex to the God, the wizards being too embarrassed to do so.

Are you following this?

Along the way we encounter a discussion about evolution, that brilliantly ridicules the unbelievably ludicrous ‘Intelligent Design’ concept, and many other rather silly, sorry, Pratchettian, ideas, finally reaching the point where swinging a bull-roarer makes the rain return.

This does make sense to you, doesn’t it?

Rincewind; remember Rincewind? Rincewind is followed by his luggage. Did I mention that the luggage is made from sentient pear-wood and, on its own legs, follows Rincewind through time and space? Rincewind invents a Peach Nellie. Well, what else could you call a dessert named after an opera singer by the name of Dame Nellie Butt?

You really are following this, aren’t you? No, me neither.

Back to Chapter One and start again. Yes, it is the usual Pratchett fare where, for one sane moment, you think that you might just know what is happening and, blink, you have not got a clue.

Pratchett’s novels have convoluted story lines and more subtext than anybody can deal with, and this novel is one of the most complex. Pamela Munt has done a remarkable job in taking this incredibly convoluted work and turning it into a play.

Massive enthusiasm, immense energy, and lots of tongues very firmly jammed into cheeks, is what this production is all about.

Certainly, on opening night, there were some rather too long blackouts, some blank expressions and desperate attempts to prompt each other when lines were, clearly, totally forgotten, and some slow patches but, for all this, this show is an absolute must for Pratchett fans.

Overacting to incredible, but entirely appropriate levels, and the most ridiculous dialogue, keeps the audience in fits of laughter throughout. There is never a dull moment. Munt has, as always, found a group of people who engage with the completely barmy world of Terry Pratchett and throw themselves wholeheartedly in his flat, circular, and strangely compelling alternative reality.

Munt, as usual, provides continuity as ‘footnote’, the narrator, as well as taking on the role, in this alternative universe, of Rincewind who, here, is the Archchancellor of the University, rather than an embarrassment to the wizard world. This is a very, very alternative universe.

Alastair Preece is frenetic in the role of Rincewind, leaping at the slightest sound and even looking somewhat on edge when sleeping. With a Kangaroo God, played with a slightly lunatic edge by Elliot Howard, looking over your shoulder and pushing you into hazardous situations all the time, that is highly understandable.

Sheep jokes appear from time to time, as one might expect, but not as prolifically as would be expected were it set in an alternative New Zealand (did I really say that?). Cultural icons, in deviant and hilarious reconfigurations, appear at irregular intervals, from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to the invention of Vegemite. Nothing is sacred.

This is an ensemble piece, with a couple of primary characters, and relies on strong mutual support. With everybody playing multiple roles this is a very busy work and the cast rises to the challenge.

Costuming, masks, props and the simple sets all work well. The wire frame masks, depicting the crocodile and kangaroo, are very effective, conveying the essential character traits without hiding facial expressions or muffling voices. The pie floaters at the interval seem to go down well, too, thanks to the salesmanship of our old friend, Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler.

The one thing missing from this production was the welcoming smile of Merri Brown, who is usually to be found pouring drinks at the bar, making costumes, playing Death and, well, just about everything else.

Pratchett followers will not want to miss this production, but they need to be quick, unless, of course, they have access to the room belonging to Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography and can pop back in time to see it before I did.