by Howard Barker
Directed by Adam Hemming
Stucley and fellow soldiers arrive home from the Crusades to find a new society run by women, with no religion, no class-system, no fences, no work, and no desire to return to how things were. He orders the building of a castle to restore the old order, and not everything goes as planned.
It’s a strange script deeply imbued with issues of religion, ideology, feminism and gender. It’s heightened language creates the tone of a Greek tragedy. It feels medieval and brutal, rather like Macbeth but with more funny bits.
It’s heightened poetic language is a source of both the play’s genius and its flaws. While it is a beautiful vehicle to convey the play’s story and themes, and much of it’s humour comes from the knowing undercutting of it’s own extremes. It is intelligent writing, with snatches of almost Shakespearean truth, and wit.
However, it is not an easy play to understand.
The Space is incredibly ambitious with it’s approach to The Castle. In fact, it’s the grandest, most epic fringe show I’ve ever seen in terms of its scale. The venue, a converted church, is more than perfect for the setting, and the dynamic blocking and direction is excellent.
The cast is crammed with superb performers, and every member of the ensemble has at least one moment where they shine. Anthony Cozens (Stucley) gives an impassioned, and powerfully emotional performance, Shelley Davenport (Ann) packs the smallest words with depths of meaning, Chris Kyriacou (Krak) embodies a stoic, complex figure, while Kate Tulloch’s Skinner is extreme, and at times terrifying. Matthew Brent (Nailer) and Matthew Lyon (Holiday) are timid and hilarious nice guys, and John Sears (Hush), Isabel Crowe (Cant), and Ross Kernahan (Brian), each bring personality, impetus, and stakes to their scenes. Their compelling performances carry you into their world.
However, the production itself falls into a few of the traps of heightened, poetic language.
First, it could stand to have at least 50% less shouting. It’s not unjustified shouting, the actors are believable and passionate, and the lines often require the violent proclamation of emotion, but particularly in the final act the message of the piece risks being lost in vocal extremes. And the more shouting there is, the less impact it has.
Second, if a character goes nose-to-nose with another character, it needs to end in a backing down, a pushing away, violence, or kissing. Otherwise the power-play has no purpose, nowhere to go, and the stakes disappear. It’s just a bit of a pet peeve of mine.
But these are problems which I seem to see in almost every Greek/Medieval style tragedy in productions from pub theatre to the West End.
I’d encourage any reader of this review to see it. Some of you will love it, others might hate it.
It will definitely leave you asking questions.