I Capture the Castle (Watford Palace Theatre)

Posted: April 7, 2017 in Theatre

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From the creator of Cruella de Vil comes a tale of crushing teenage crushes and unrequited love, set among a Bohemian artists’ community in the rural England of the 1930s. Teresa Howard’s book and lyrics derive from Dodie Smith’s 1948 novel I Capture the Castle, condensing the original into a form that is so weighed down by shallow romanticism that it comes as a surprise to discover afterwards that Smith’s publisher was not in fact Mills & Boon.

Cassandra (Lowri Izzard). a budding young writer, is attempting to capture in words the essence of the castle in which she lives (i.e. squats) with her novelist father (Ben Watson), her younger sister Rose (Kate Batter) and her step-mother Topaz (Suzanne Ahmet), an artists’ model. Along comes the castle’s new American owner Simon (Theo Boyce) and the sisters vie for his affections, Cassandra ignoring the persistent advances of the gardener Stephen (Isaac Stanmore). It is possible to understand why someone could have seen potential for a chamber musical here, but, when the material is blown up to be performed in a medium-sized traditional theatre, it looks sadly lost and lonely.

We have become spoiled by musicals staged in small studio spaces where strong characters come to the fore and this is a show that cries out for such a staging. However, blaming the choice of venue cannot entirely exonerate director Brigid Larmour for this, flat-footed, lacklustre production. She is not helped by Ti Green’s baffling set design, something like wooden scaffolding that resembles neither a chilly castle on the Suffolk coast nor a chaotic refuge for artists. Larmour has to counter a setting that is unsympathetic towards the show’s locations and its themes throughout, but an even bigger problem is the weakness of characterisations. Izzard is sweet and innocent as the pivotal figure, but opportunities for larger-than-life secondary characters to make a strong mark are passed over.

The score by Steven Edis is pleasantly melodic, much of it in the pre-War style of, say, Ivor Novello. However, the accompaniment of a three-piece band of keyboards and strings, which would have been fine in a studio space, feels inadequate here.  It is probably very unfair to Smith to say it, but the conclusion to be drawn from this adaptation of her novel is that she ought to have stuck to writing about captured canines.

Performance date: 6 April 2017

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