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Breaking The Castle at Assembly Rooms Edinburgh

This story feels like a road well-travelled, but there are plenty of people who fall into drug addiction and mental ill health who aren’t around to tell the tale. There are even fewer who have put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to tell it, and there are fewer still who have travelled to the Edinburgh Fringe all the way from Australia. This show is not, however, a triumphalist endeavour: David Smith (Peter Cook) is not placing judgement on anyone who doesn’t successfully complete rehab, and indeed there were several points in this candid story in which he took positive steps to quit the process and attempt to go his own way.

Breaking The CastleIt’s also one of those shows that has a lot of narrative to squeeze into an hour, and it hits the ground running and – pardon the analogy – David does behave as though he really has taken amphetamines, with an almost mesmerising cacophony of different characters at a rehab session, with distinct personalities and different nationalities. There are times, particularly when David is in protracted conversations with his recovery mentor, but also when friends and relatives try to contact him with increasing concern and alarm (the rehab clinic takes his mobile phone away on checking in, but it appears nobody told him that beforehand) when it is easy to forget that this is a single-performer show.

Based on his own lived experiences, Cook’s play also reveals the reality of a jobbing actor, and he takes whatever work is available (that is, within the boundaries of reason) – one audition was for a Mortein advert. Mortein, for the uninitiated, like me, is an Australian brand of pest and insect control products. Seeing David roll around on the floor pretending to be a dying cockroach exposed to the apparently fast and effective Mortein spray was a moment of sheer hilarity, comic relief (if you will) from the darker elements of the story.

There were other career options available to him, including ones his family would have preferred him to take up, all of which were gloriously pitted against one another in a horse race. David’s commentary is amusing as much as it is riveting. The play both describes and dramatizes what leads up to taking substances, whether smoked or sniffed, its brief high and the long aftereffects. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly inclined to give crystal meth a go for myself any time soon.

It’s not the first time I’ve come across a group session on stage, or indeed on screen, at a rehab centre: we all know they do that thing where someone admits for the first time, “My name is X, and I’m an alcoholic”, which results in a round of applause. There aren’t many shows, however, that delve into as much detail as this one does about a person’s level of resistance, and seeing David go from outright denial to genuine and sincere acceptance is very moving. He was, at one point, admitted to a secure psychiatric unit, and there was family tragedy as David’s sister dies from acute myeloid leukaemia. That there is still light at the end of the tunnel, and that he finds it, is extraordinary. “I tried dying, and it didn’t work. I might as well try living,” he muses. A powerful and poignant production.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Breaking The Castle is a true story of addiction brought movingly to life in a hilarious, uplifting and poignant one-man show. Writer and performer Pete Cook draws from his own life experiences in this tour-de-force performance of a struggling actor battling debilitating mental health and descending into a world of addiction – illuminating the broader struggles of those who live on the edges, and the inequalities in the addiction and recovery cycle.

Writer/Performer Peter Cook
Lighting Designer Ben Hughes
Sound Designer Kimmo Vennonen
Associate Director Bridget Boyle


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