By day, Alison Munro teaches history in a local Sheffield secondary school. By night, Alison brings great literature to life, directing productions for The Company. On this occasion, she is directing the upcoming Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, adapted by Stephen Briggs.
“The Company has been running since 1990. I joined in 1994.
“It is an amature drama group”, she explains outside the stage door of Sheffield University Drama Studio, where the show is set to open this week. “The whole point is to work as a company – that’s why we’ve got the name. It’s not just pretentious, everyone mucks in. We don’t take to drama queens who like to come and act but won’t do any of the hard work like building a set. We’re all in.”
The Company, comprised of atypical performers, is a microcosm of the talent surrounding us in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. “We rehearse in the evenings because people are working throughout the day. A lot of our members are alumni of the University. We’ve had people from Barnsley, even people driving down from Leeds.”
Undoubtedly, The Company is a unique theatre group and it’s this originality that enriches their productions. “The Company’s ethos comes through in this play” Munro explains. “With Terry Pratchett there is no such thing as a small role. I’ve tried to get people who play lead roles in smaller roles.”
Wyrd Sisters is Pratchett’s sixth novel in the Discworld series. It is a take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth but told from the point of view of the three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. Pratchett uses fierce female characters to tell the tale of a land in peril, as they stand between the kingdom and destruction. With murder, ghosts and delusion, this production is bound to be a thrilling exploration of matriarchal power.
Murno shares the history behind this adaptation and how she has managed to make it her own. “Stephen Briggs was a friend of Pratchett’s. He wrote to Pratchett early on and asked if he could adapt before he became really well known. Before A S Byatt described him as ‘a modern Dickens’ because he is so satirical.
“We’ve had to stick close to Briggs’ adaptation due to licensing. I’ve managed to put some visual gags in this production to keep it up to date. There are lots of jokes relevant to the ‘90s that I’ve replaced with jokes from present day.
For Munro, and presumably many others, Pratchett’s female dominated novel is inspiring. “One thing I love about Pratchett is you always get women’s roles. His books passed the Bechdel test before there was a Bechdel test. You have three strong women. These witches aren’t evil.”
It is apparent the female characters in this production are the perfect role models for women.“Granny Weatherwax is the kind of person I’d like to grow up to be”, Munro shares openly. “She does what is right, she knows who she is and she’s never wrong-footed. Emma Portus, who is playing her, is doing a fantastic job. She’s really got Granny Weatherwax’s self confidence; it’s brilliant.”
However, Munro confesses honestly, “I think I’m rather like Nanny Ogg”, whose character is described as down-to-earth and vulgar. “Interestingly, Nanny Ogg is played by a man in our production. Sadly, as director, I couldn’t cast myself.”
As The Company performs three plays a year, Munro sheds light on the next production after Wyrd Sisters. “The next show is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, just before Halloween”. It becomes apparent that portraying strong literary characters, especially females, is a central theme of The Company’s intentions.“Our adaptation includes a female doctor. It really says something about gender roles. I don’t think it will have as many jokes as Wyrd Sisters, though.”
Wyrd Sisters plays at the University of Sheffield’s Drama Studio on Glossop Road from the 13th-16th June. For tickets, please visit:
Image Credit: The Company Sheffield