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Review: I Capture The Castle, The Octagon

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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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Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

 

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (adapted by Deborah McAndrew)

The Octagon, Bolton [11.04.2017]

Sitting in a seat with a somewhat restricted view following a very long and arduous bus journey (though to be fair these events were separated by some thought provoking conversation) was probably not the best start to the evening. Leaning forward to admire the set was an error on my part, there was very little visual artistry to greet or titillate.

Now, is probably a good time to say that the classics are not of huge appeal to me and I don’t usually write reviews in this style. However, there’s a first time for everything and said time is upon us.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (we’ll refer to it as Wildfell from now on) is the sort of play that my best friend would appreciate:

It is a window into the harrowing love life and struggle for independence of a ‘widow’ named Helen. Helen has fled from her foul husband with her child and is hiding away in fear that he will find her and subject her to a life of misery. In what is now to be her new home, she stumbles across local farmer Gilbert and they fall in love, against the odds.

Or at least, that’s how I imagine her describing it (okay, maybe she wouldn’t have said that last bit).

It reminded me of Catherine Cookson’s The Girl. If you’ve not read or watched it, allow me to elaborate. Hannah marries a butcher, but is in love with a guy called Ned, who’s been in love with her since she was a child (which I find uncomfortable to say the least). Anyway, the butcher dies and Hannah sends his mother away. She gives the shop to her sister and runs off into the hills to be with Ned. Yes, Wildfell is very much like that except there’s less dramatic fighting, no butcher in sight and oh yes, there’s a dog that makes an appearance at the beginning and then it just doesn’t come back. I am not a fan of The Girl, but I am able to vaguely outline its plot because it’s the joy of my mother’s life on a Sunday afternoon. It’s more predictable than that On The Buses episode where Stan becomes infatuated by the Indian belly dancer who works in the canteen and, thanks to his good old pal Jack, he ends up taking her snake home and hiding out in his upstairs loo until she comes to collect it. Wildfell is very much like this, riddled in misogyny but less humorous.

It’s important that I highlight some good things. Number 1: Helen is a strong feminist character (be it of the time) and I can see how this would have ruffled many a feather back in the day (props to Anne Bronte). Number 2: I appreciated that the child was actually played by a child. Often adults embody children and the audience is expected to see beyond them and appreciate the craft used to make you believe they are a child. In this instance, it not only felt appropriate but would seem ill placed for an adult to perform childhood in this environment (p.s. if he can sing, they should recast him for Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol). Number 3: Gilbert (Helen’s love interest) was like a cross between Ned (mentioned above), Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre) and Mr Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) – I think this would be a positive for many audience members. Number 4: the string music played during scene changes was rather soothing and was well complemented by the purple hued lighting changes that accompanied it. Number 5: the period costumes were complementary to the era in which the piece is set. Number 6: I liked that the dog wondered about for a bit (even though I don’t like animals).

Verdict: If you appreciate the back to back period dramas shown on Yesterday (Freeview channel 20) and would like to be immersed in one in the round (be it with a no frills no fuss set), then this is definitely the shout for you. Equally if you have an appreciation of the classics, I’m sure you’ll like this. However, if like me, you prefer contemporary theatre that defies boundaries and require a less predictable plot, give this one a swerve.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall will be at The Octagon until Saturday 22nd April.

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