Review: I Capture The Castle, The Octagon

1-lowri-izzard-i-capture-the-castle-photography-c-richard-lakos

Photo Richard Lakos

I Capture The Castle

Directed by Brigid Larmour; Based on the novel by Dodie Smith

The Octagon, Bolton [29.04.17]

A young woman, Cassandra sits in the kitchen sink. Well, not in the sink exactly, she sits on the draining board with her feet in the sink and she writes. She wants to write a novel about the castle that she and her unconventional family reside in, to truly capture the castle for all its worth, in etchings of ink. Maybe her father will go back to writing too, if his writer’s block ever subsides.

Set in 1930’s Britain, I Capture The Castle (ICTC) is a slightly odd but very enjoyable tale about a family who’s world is dominated by writing, not writing and the castle gargoyle (more on this later). We follow Cassandra, her father, stepmother Topaz and sister Rose, as their lives are tipped upside down when two young American gentlemen arrive at the castle, after their car breaks down one cold, rainy night. At this point, despite being a musical, this does not take a Rocky Horror-esque turn – which depending on your taste, you’ll either be ecstatic or distraught about. Instead it goes more along the lines of a prim and proper version of the sort of love quadrilateral you’d find in Eastenders (this is complimentary, I like Eastenders) – with songs and a bit of dancing. Rose falls head over heels for bearded, Simon (Cassandra questions Rose’s pursuit of a bearded man, making this a notable quality) and Cassandra is left to entertain his ranch-obsessed (they get mentioned a lot) brother, Neil. This all turns on its head of course,when the four take a trip to the beach. It is here that Neil and Rose slip away discreetly and we’re left to join up the dots, whilst Cassandra and Simon have a quaint little moment together. The men, being gentlemen of course, give their coats to the women. However, these coats can only be described as the wardrobe rejects from the BBC’s 1988 version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. These mixed with a an array of green fabric hanging around the castle would give one the perfect makings of a collection inspired by Babes In The Wood.

Eventually, Simon proposes to Rose and they head off to London (with Topaz and Stephen, the castle farm hand who is madly in love with Cassandra). Only Simon returns one evening to find Cassandra engaging in a midsummer ceremony which he asks to be brought into, at which point the two end up kissing. Believe it or not, this part wasn’t as predictable as it sounds. Anyway, Cassandra insists that he leave, only to later realise that she herself is in love with him and to make things worse she is sure that Rose does not love him. So she goes to London to find him, only to be left heartbroken and to find that she was write all along. She returns home and (of course) locks her father in the castle turret to help him write. Just your everyday reaction to heartbreak really.

In the end, it all comes out about Rose and Neil. Simon decides to go back to New York and invites Cassandra to join him. She declines despite still being in love, for she needs to stay at the castle to write in her novel. My younger self was screaming with happiness at this point – a story with a happy ending where the girl doesn’t go chasing after the guy… but instead opts to pursue her novel writing dreams.

Being unfamiliar with the book as I am, I cannot say whether or not this was a good adaptation. However, this was enjoyable piece of theatre that certainly made me laugh and that’s hard for a performance to do (especially when I’m sat up in the rafters and can hear the pigeons better than the cast). The characters of Topaz, Stephen and Leda (a famous photographer and aunt of Simon and Neil) really brought a comedic edge to the piece and brought it to life.

At times, ICTC felt more like a play with songs masquerading itself as a musical, rather than a solid new musical offering. Many of the songs were quite similar in tone and didn’t stick with me after the show. I feel that a truly brilliant musical keeps you singing the songs for days after you’ve left the theatre. However, it does manage to churn out one banger, They’re Only Men, for which I await its release on Spotify so that it can be added to my musicals playlist. ICTC has the potential with some tweaks to be a great musical offering.

Director Brigid Larmour was clearly thorough when laying out her vision for this piece – it is ambitious with its use of physical theatre to add an additonal element to the usual dance accompaniment. The physicality certainly added an element of intrigue but unfortunately, at times it felt misplaced within the landscape of the play. The same can be said for the gargoyle character who appears throughout the play. It was almost as though the commitment to adding these more abstract elements just didn’t go to the lengths it needed to in order to truly make them work. This accompanied by the choreography which at times felt a kin to dad dancing, distracted from the story and musicality of the piece.

Overall, for a new musical, this was well done and the characters successfully took the audience in.  Lowri Izzard played a loveable and witty Cassandra and there were a couple of good feel good songs. However, I was left with the same question I am often left with when leaving the Octagon – why wasn’t the cast diverse? In a cast of nine, it wouldn’t have been difficult to have a cast that is reflective of society. Musicals are more often than not dominated by white casts, which is why shows like The Wiz are so important. If new musicals want to be relevant, they need to be doing something that isn’t just following the path of the classics. There was a degree of effort made to make this piece relevant to the modern audience – so why not go the whole way? It would serve The Octagon well to start engaging in the act of colour brave casting rather than sticking to their safe casting or occassionally problematic casting of actors of colour in stereotyped roles (e.g. casting the two black actors in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as an alcoholic/adulterer and an adulteress wasn’t the best casting decision ever made). Partaking in this practice would fully transform the theatre that they create and build on the potential that they most certainly have.

Verdict: This is a good musical offering and it has the potential to be fantastic with more consideration given to the finer details. If you like musicals, this is definitely worth seeing. P.S. The set is visually very interesting – this made my eyes extra happy.

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