Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

Dec 9 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Well-turned

Pleasance Theatre: Fri 8 – Sun 10 Dec 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Amidst the noise, rituals and trappings of pantomime and Christmas, Strawmoddie’s take on Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather provides a welcome parody of our seasonal excess, at the Pleasance Theatre to Sunday.

It’s not all jolly mockery of Christmas in general – and the concept of Father Christmas in particular – of course. As is generally true of Pratchett’s work, a deeper vein of thought runs though Stephen Briggs’ adaptation of the original novel. It’s one which director Jonathan Whiteside ensures his grassroots company brings out, with sideways glances at the nature of belief and ritual added to the mix.

Alice Pelan and Caitlin Carter. Pic: Strawmoddie

Hogfather is the 20th of Pratchett’s novels set on alternate universe Discworld, which is riding through the heavens on four elephants balanced on the back of a giant turtle, for some reason. Which contain all the usual mountains, seas and desert, and in whose big city, Ankh-Morpork, many of his novels take place.

It is also the fourth of the series to make a feature of the character of Death who, for the most part is simply prone to arriving just as you are passing off this mortal coil, making a few dark and probably maudlin remarks, before leading you off into the afterlife.


Not that you really need to know any of this in a production which plays to Pratchett’s fans, but which is clear enough to work as a stand-alone piece, with no need for explanation of the backstories.

Some business does seems a little irrelevant. If you didn’t know, you might wonder why there is an orangutang sitting in the corner of a scene set in the Unseen University? Or the significance of a wizard getting a Hogswatch gift of a potato. Such details, and there are many, add depth for those who know – but are wielded lightly by both production and script.

Chris Allan, James Cruickshank and Alice Pelan. Pic: Strawmoddie

Set in Ankh Morpork one Hogswatch Eve, the Guild of Assassins has been hired to kill no other than the Hogfather – a jolly old man who comes down the chimney to give presents to good children and bones to the bad, before going off to make sure that the sun carries on rising and the days get longer again.

The assassin given the job is the starkly cold-blooded Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-ti-meh), played with a poise and darkly narcissistic finesse by Caitlin Carter, who sets out on a dastardly plan to stop folk believing in the Hogfather, and so bring about his demise.

Only Death notices, and realises that he and his trusty butler, Alfred, have to take the Hogfather’s place – leaving the marks that prove the Hogfather does exist for those who stop believing; while ensuring that his granddaughter Susan gets wind of what is going on and is told not to put her neb in it. At which point she will certainly try and solve what is happening.


Death is cleverly created as a combination of a giant puppet with blue-lit eyes operated from inside by James Cruikshank and voiced from off stage by the booming Ben Blow. The pairing is seamless and adds to the idea that the voice of death is not so much heard as experienced.

Chris Allan’s Albert is an equally strong incarnation: the roll-up smoking geezer who has been around the block a few times. His interactions with Death are well used and their relationship is exceptionally well created.

David Taylor, Alex Caird, Caitlin Carter, Matthew Jebb and Gregor Dickie. Pic: Strawmoddie

Alice Pelan gets it just about right as Susan Sto Helit, Death’s granddaughter who is working as a nanny to the posh Gaiter family. She has the ferocity of a minor Marvel character, wielding a poker and fierce intelligence with equal ease, but also a nice humanity to her, as she follows the trail to the Tooth Fairy castle.

The whole is, by its nature, hugely episodic with many short scenes. Whiteside keeps the pace quick, simply by alternating the action between in front of the curtain and the open stage. There is also a 23-strong cast playing 32 named characters, besides an assortment of pigs, wizards, orangutangs, posh drunks and other Discworld denizens.

Few get to find much depth. Although Gregor Dickie, David Taylor and Alex Card as bar-room brawlers Chickenwire, Medium Dave and Banjo, with Matthew Jebb as second-rate wizard Sideney, get more than most when recruited into Teatime’s gang, as she seeks to control all Ankh-Morpork’s children.

pompous and shouty

Everyone has to have something to believe in and Amber Lipman has fun as Violet Butler, who has taken on an outsourced Tooth Fairy job; with Grace Gilbert as the hapless small god of hangovers, Bilious, re-incarnated by accident in by-the-way chat from a wizard.

Those wizards in the Unseen University are as they should be. Blow is on stage for the pompous and shouty Ridcully, a part in which he is particularly magnificent, while Alan Sunter is properly geeky as Ponder Stibbons, the wizard who has created a magical computer, Hex, that helps the plot speed along at a tricky point.

Chris Pearson, Sinclair Davis, Alan Sunter, Ben Blow, The Librarian, Blair Flucker, Frank Skelly. Pic: Strawmoddie

Sinclair Davis and Norliza Matheson are great fun as the Gaiter children in Susan’s charge, helping set up the understanding of Susan’s real powers, and the nature of imagination, with Angela Harkness Robertson as their long-suffering mother.

For the aficionados, there is great portrayal of The Watch, with Rebecca Amos noising it up as Corporal Nobbs and Andrea Linhova seriously spooky as Constable Humpeding, the “black ribbon” vampire in the recently inclusive Watch. There’s a great moment when Death tries to give her a bag of blood for her Hogswatch present.

Debbie Cannon sets it up well as the Narrator, also dropping into various crowd scenes, with Frank Skelly, Chris Pearson, Blair Flucker, Dario Dalla Costa and Hilary Davies completing the cast.


It’s great fun, but where this loses out considerably is in some of the stagecraft on display. As director, Whiteside is guilty of allowing several of his actors to perform as if they were speaking to each other on stage, rather than ensuring that the audience is able to hear their lines clearly. It’s mostly okay in the front rows, but one feels for those further back.

In terms of characterisation, however, the whole is very well done indeed and should please Pratchett fans enormously. Appropriate work from composer and musical director Dug Campbell, helpful lighting from Elissa Webb and knowing sound design from David Marsland all keep it swinging along. Chris Allan and Hilary Davies’s prop and costume design gets all the big calls right.

Indeed, that sound issue aside, this is a very welcome addition to the Christmas canon and one which affords plenty to chew over while having a great laugh.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval)
Pleasance Theatre, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ.
Fri 8 – Sun 10 Dec 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat & Sun mats: 3pm.
Tickets and details: Book Here.

The cast of Hogfather. Pic: Strawmoddie

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