Mounds Theatre takes on Terry Pratchett's 'Mort'

​Caitlin Hammel came to Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld books a few years ago after her father introduced the long-running comedy fantasy series to her. She immediately fell in love with them.

So it was no surprise that she was thrilled to learn that the Mounds Theatre Community Players were tackling Mort, a stage adaptation of one of the early books in the series, and even more so when she ended up as the director.

If you are not familiar, the Discworld is exactly that--a flat earth that stands on four massive elephants, who in turn stand on the back of a celestial turtle. It's a world packed full of heroic barbarians, powerful wizards, and mythical creatures. The story is told with heavy dollops of humor, but also plenty of humanity and insight.

That insight is what has kept Hammel coming back to the series. "I started, and I couldn't stop reading them," she says.

The book--and the stage play--follow the adventures of Death, a scythe-wielding cowled skeleton who is obsessed with the everyday concerns of the human souls he is constantly reaping. In the story Death takes on an apprentice, which shakes up the natural order of things. Stephen Briggs, who has adapted several of Pratchett's books, crafted the original script.

Hammel and the company further tweaked that script. "Some of it was in the English pantomime style, with direct addresses to the audience. We wanted to keep more of the magical parts of the book," she says. "I went back to the original novel and used parts of that for the narrator. Any changes I made were to get closer to the original Pratchett."

Auditions brought out "a lot of Discworld fans," Hammel says. From there, the company has worked to bring the play to life on the stage. That has provided plenty of challenges, especially for a smaller company telling a world-spanning story. To bring out these locations, they've used projections as backdrops. 

Great attention has been paid to the costume for the actor playing Death, who will appear as a skeleton. "We've got a tall actor in the role, and he has a gorgeous skeleton mask. It's his voice that is really interpreting the part," Hammel says. "He's got the deep voice to get the death tone, and he gets a lot of expression in it."

Working on the show also brought Hammel in touch with Discworld fandom, as she traveled to Wisconsin for a convention centered on Pratchett's books. In fact, the author himself was there, who Hammel was thrilled to meet. (They were able to get several posters for the production autographed as well.)

"There are plenty of Discworld fans here," Hammel says. "And it will be a super funny show."

Mort runs Fridays and Saturdays through August 6.