Book & Lyrics: Teresa Howard
Music: Steven Edis
Director: Brigid Larmour
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’. Readers of Dodie Smith’s 1948 novel I Capture the Castle will all recognise this famous opening line, which is kept intact by Teresa Howard and Steven Edis to launch their new musical adaptation of the classic coming-of-age tale.
Teenager Cassandra Mortmain (Lowri Izzard) is writing a diary in which she seeks to ‘capture’ the dilapidated castle which has become home to her and the eccentric members of her family. Despite a successful debut, novelist father James (Ben Watson) hasn’t written a word in years; her stepmother Topaz (Suzanne Ahmet) is a former artists model whose nude portrait hangs in the Tate and her sister Rose (Kate Batter) is pining for an eligible bachelor who can provide her with peach-coloured towels, her personal measure of success.
This brand new musical is co-produced by Watford Palace Theatre but since it’s recent debut has been tailored to suit the Octagon space. The vast stage occupies the entire half of the Octagon auditorium and designer Ti Green’s set – a tower-like construction of wooden chairs and ladders – feels suitably imposing. There is an intimate feel to the piece, however, largely arising from the performance of Lowri Izzard as Cassandra, who narrates with such clarity and sincerity that she grasps the audience’s attention immediately and doesn’t let go. Izzard is an endearing and beguiling presence and possesses a beautiful, rich tone to her voice that brings Edis’s music to life.
The musical styles are varied; recurring number The Diary Song is bewitching and melodic, the stand out tune you will find yourself humming on the way home. The rest of the score is a combination of yearning, evocative ballads that are pleasant to listen to but unlikely to lodge in the memory, and up-tempo Charleston and swing-infused numbers that reflect the 1930s setting but would benefit from a bigger, fuller sound to inject more spark.
The music is complemented by stylised movement direction from Shona Morris to varying degrees of success. When it works the cast move with elegance and grace as if floating in and out of Cassandra’s memories. At other times, however, the movements appear too postured and placed and what should feel like a natural, fluid extension of the music is rendered artificial. There are some unnecessary distractions; a gargoyle that stands grandly atop the castle sometimes spends as much time getting into position as he does on stage.
As with any new musical, I Capture the Castle will no doubt develop and grow and it does show great promise. The evolving story, where ultimately most people do not fall for those they should, is heartfelt and touching. In addition to Izzard, the entire ensemble give strong performances with Shona White bringing fun and glamour to her appearances as Aunt Leda and each cast member vocally perfect for Edis’s soaring harmonies.
Overall, one cannot help but feel charmed by the show and the talented performers. Whether familiar with the book or not, I Capture the Castle is an enjoyable, ambitious production that is recommended to those willing to try something different – if so, it may well capture your heart.
Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Richard Lakos