Terry Pratchett was a deeply funny and switched on man. He is most famous for his huge collection of Discworld novels, which comprise the best and most complete fictional world ever made, bar the Star Wars universe (and maybe Middle Earth). However, Pratchett’s achievement lies not in his ability to provide incredible escapism to a reader – often through extraordinarily long footnotes – but in his utterly unrivalled skill in satirising our own world through the fictional.
In Discworld, people are not obsessed by stamp collecting but rather collecting pins. That is, until stamps are invented by Postmaster Moist von Lipwig. The Assassins’ Guild, after murdering you, will make sure to lock up your house to see that you’re not unfairly taken advantage of by the Thieves Guild. My personal favourite use of satire in Discworld, however, has to be the conspiracy theory held by some on the Disc that the disc – a flat world – is in fact round! These are but to name just a few very small examples of how our world, with all of its quirky and sometimes disturbing edges, is masterfully parodied by Pratchett through his total 41 Discworld books.
I first discovered Pratchett’s Discworld when I was 14. However, most unfortunately, I began my Discworld adventure by reading ‘The Colour of Magic’. While this and ‘The Light Fantastic’ are the first two Discworld books Pratchett wrote, they’re not what you might call… good. Pratchett himself repeatedly asked people not to read these first books with too much expectation, as he claimed he had not yet “discovered plot”. Most of the books use a variety of styles to break up the story to somewhat manageable chunks. I’ve often had the impression he was just making up the style as he went along, which may be closer to the truth than many people might think. Regardless, his books have been incredibly popular; over 80 million books in the series have been sold in a total of 37 languages.
Building on the global success of Pratchett’s books in more recent years, many have been adapted for the stage, many of which Ooook! Productions have put on. This year, the adaption is ‘Going Postal’: a play which takes a very hard look at our world of market capitalism and so-called meritocracy to deliver a biting but also hilariously funny take on what it means to be a postal worker. The story is the first of three Discworlds to feature Moist von Lipwig, a con-artist forced into the thankless, frighteningly bureaucratic and deadly job of Postmaster at the Ankh-Morpork Post Office.
In this show, adapted from Pratchett’s 2004 book by Stephen Briggs, you will notice many silly similarities to our world. Alongside the comedy, however, Pratchett weaves some very serious social commentary, including discussions on race and transgender issues through the presence of Golems, creatures literally straight out of Jewish mythology. Adora Belle Dearheart’s very actions throughout the play – including threatening Moist with grievous bodily harm multiple times – present a vital commentary on gender roles in a play that only has a handful of female characters. Moreover, ‘Going Postal’ is part of Pratchett’s wider discussion on the morality of “benevolent” dictatorship, through Lord Vetinari. Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and member of the Assassins’ Guild, Lord “V” as he’s known to his friends (to clarify he doesn’t have any friends) insists he is not a tyrant. There is after all a democracy of-sorts in Ankh-Morpork. One man, one vote. Lord Vetinari is that one man and he has that one vote. It’s all very simple. The parodying of our world then is a consistent feature of Pratchett’s work and a theme that I believe ran through everything he ever wrote.
If you come and see Going Postal, you will be immersed in a world that perhaps you’ve only ever interacted with through pages in a book. If you have never encountered Discworld before, then I hope this play will serve as a brilliant introduction into a world which will ultimately makes you think, then laugh, then maybe think a little bit and then laugh some more. The true magic of Discworld is not the escapism it offers, but its ability to make us take a long hard look at our own world and realise how truly ridiculous it all is.
By Peter Firbank