There is no denying what a production such as ‘I Capture the Castle’ brings to the world of theatre. A packed house, bums on seats, an audience happy to indulge in the escapism of an adaptation that allows them to snugly wallow in the cosy world of yesteryear.
Watford Palace Theatre have delved into the world of 1930’s England bohemia, bringing the Dodie Smith classic to the stage. Co-produced with Octagon Theatre Bolton they’ve turned Smith’s coming of age kitchen sink drama into a musical no less.
Ti Green’s excellent set is a visual treat. Using a spiral staircase as its central motif, it’s cobbled together using bits of furniture and chairs, like an upcycled project that breathes new life into downtrodden old pieces of tat that have seen better days. An analogy not lost on those watching a production trying to revive a forgotten classic I would surmise.
Lowri Izzard is cast as the central character of Cassandra, the capturer so to speak, intent on detailing every part of her life and that of her eccentric family and extended friends. We meet the proverbial gold digging sister, the maddening father with writer’s block and the avant-garde step-mother Topaz.
It’s a delightful whimsical performance from Izzard, who is more than responsible in holding the show together, even when it appears that it could all fall apart at the seams. She is also adept at those raw emotive moments, exhibiting a varied spectrum to her acting repertoire that ranged from light and playful to, at times, dark and downbeat.
The irony is that when Watford Palace’s artistic director, Brigid Larmour, along with Teresa Howard’s book (she’s also responsible for the lyrics) stick within the confines of Dodie Smith’s original – it shines. The moment it veers off this well trodden path it tumbles down a ravine of gloom.
As innovative as the set design is and as polished as the acting on stage is, it only serves to highlight the problems with the original text. Unrequited love, or forbidden love, or any kind of love on display here is decoupled and has a hard time resonating with us all. The strong characters driven on by the eccentricity of the family only in turn highlights the mediocrity of the American characters, who could be straight out of a scene from High Society, that seem to be lacking in any kind of depth in comparison.
What’s more, as a musical this does not work. It’s a play with some songs in it. Songs that aren’t that memorable as musicals go. Or for that matter, plays that have some songs in it. Steven Edis’ score is a cliched compendium of what I’d envisage listening to Cole Porter would sound like if my old ipod was forever stuck on repeat. I was promised songs that had “influences of swing, tango, beguine, English folksong and a hint of Cole Porter!” More faint inference than influence. More prominence than hint if you ask me.
The lack of variety is no more evident in the second half where every musical number becomes a languishing, lumbering, melodic sort of soliloquy that it almost blends into a vuvuzela drone. Then there is the choreography, which does this production no favours. It’s expressionistic slow physicality to some of the numbers is quite frankly distracting and to put it bluntly, ill conceived.
And yet, at times – it’s enjoyable. I’d hazard a guess that the target audience for I Capture the Castle would have been happy to overlook the misgivings and revel in the moments that bring laughter and a few tears.
This blog has often derided theatres and production companies for playing it safe. For the supposedly high brow diet of shows that cater only for a certain audience. Whilst modern theatre should look beyond the traditional established crowd to attract newer audiences, it should not be at the expense of them. Productions such as this still have a place and what’s more when done really well, can appeal to all and sundry.
Verdict: A fun and frolicsome ‘romcom’ set in the idyll of pre war Britain. It has songs in it and some people ‘try’ to dance.