Take a wildly eccentric and entirely dysfunctional impecunious family living in a castle that lacks all the basic amenities and comprising of a novelist father with writer’s block, mad stepmother with silly name, and two daughters – one wistful and delicate, the other worldly and sex-mad – plus a ponderous young love-interest-gardener who turns out to have god-like looks and ends up Hollywood bound; add in a fair smattering of Americans – you know, the full-frontal, caricature-drawn, cartoonesque, cliche-ridden OTT-type Americans – and there you have the ingredients for a mishmash hotchpotch of a ragbag musical. Oh, and don’t forget the gargoyle. The humanoid gargoyle (actor in mask) who perches over the citadel citizens like a grumpy old wart-hog with uncontrollable limb-movements. Should gargoyles have limbs… don’t ask. And did I mention the pagan rituals…?
I Capture the Castle is a weird and not very wonderful attempt at a musical. The music ranges from uninspired meanderings, through obligatory pastiches (“We’ve got to get a comic song in somewhere”) via tuneless “big” songs, ending up with a complete rip-off: one of a clutch of songs about the weather is lifted straight out of the Irving Berlin classic “Blue Skies” (1926). No doubt composer Steven Edis will claim that a show set in the thirties can borrow stuff from that era but he should take note of the recent Sam Smith and “Blurred Lines” cases where copying phrasing was the basis for successful plagiarism lawsuits.
Most of writer Teresa Howard’s lyrics are banal, to say the least, and I’m not sure I have ever felt the need to listen to a song about peach-coloured towels. The actors, to be fair, give it a go but suffer as much from Brigid Larmour’s insipid direction as the third-rate script. The principle thrust of her instructions seems to be: “Rush on stage and flit about a bit”. The strange melange of slo-mo with real time and poseur-mannerisms with natural stances gets more and more irritating as the show progresses. I suppose the contention will be that it’s stylised. But this is stylised without style.
It’s never more evident than in the shockingly laughable swimming sequence when Cassandra (Lowri Izzard) and Neil (Luke Dale) take a dip in the moat. Yep. They do. And fully-clothed they embark on the most excruciating mime I have ever witnessed in a theatre. Not content with their slow-motion, cross-stage water-thrash they grab a chair each and continue their gyratory splashathon prone on the seats. I think this is meant to be funny. It is not. In fact there should be a warning sign: those with a low embarrassment threshold look away now. Movement Director is Shona Morris.
Izzard in the central role sings nicely and strives hard to achieve Cassandra’s whimsicality but why she has to stick her leg out behind her as she climbs up the castle steps at one point is a complete mystery. Kate Batter supplies at least a tad of oomph to flighty Rose and Suzanne Ahmet does her scatty best to present some semblance of character in weirdly mad Topaz but the role is so perfunctorily written that there’s not much to work with. Shona White as Yank photographer Leda attempts to add some poise to the proceedings and at least tries to stave off the movement strictures that afflict the rest of the cast. And Ben Watson as novelist James (referred to throughout as Mortmain) strides around frenetically with the furrowed-brow demeanour of someone who’s about to burst into a rendition of “I’m in a turkey and I know it – clap your hands!”
There must be an index somewhere that prescribes the amount of times one is allowed to repeat a keyword from a title during the course of a show. With “capture” I stopped counting at a dozen. Perhaps this troupe of journeymen
actors could chase the gargoyle around the castle and then all the flitting and the swimming and the posing and the slo-mo would, I feel, make much more sense. It could be called “I Capture the Gargoyle”.
Review by Peter Yates
Cassie is 17. She is trying to ‘capture’ her eccentric family in her new diary – her irritating elder sister Rose, her unconventional stepmother Topaz, her orphaned admirer Stephen, and her novelist father James, who hasn’t written a word in years. They are behind with the rent for the tumbledown castle that seemed so romantic when they moved in. The roof is leaking, it never stops raining and the family is surviving on oatcakes and eggs.
But the new landlord is a wealthy young American, with an attractive younger brother, and Spring is in the air…
Set in the bohemian England of the 1930s, this warm and sharply funny coming-of-age story from the author of 101 Dalmatians is set to stunning original music by Steven Edis, with influences of swing, tango, beguine, English folksong and a hint of Cole Porter!
A NEW BRITISH MUSICAL BASED ON THE NOVEL BY Dodie Smith
BOOK & LYRICS BY Teresa Howard
MUSIC BY Steven Edis
DIRECTOR Brigid Larmour
DESIGNER Ti Green
MOVEMENT DIRECTOR Shona Morris
MUSICAL DIRECTOR Oli Jackson
LIGHTING DESIGNER Mike Gunning
SOUND DESIGNER Nick Manning
Suzanne Ahmet – Topaz Kate Batter
Kate Batter – Rose
Theo Boyce – Simon
Luke Dale – Neil
Lowri Izzard – Cassandra
Julia St John – Mrs. Cotton
Isaac Stanmore – Stephen
Ben Watson – James
Shona White – Leda
31st March to 22nd April 2017