Review: The Castle at The Space

In Howard Barker’s rarely performed 1985 play The Castle, Stucley and his men return home from the Crusades to find the women have taken over and established their own tribal regime. Far from the hero’s welcome he was expecting, Stucley is horrified to discover his own wife in a relationship with a witch, and with no interest to returning to his bed – or giving him a child, despite having become famous in his absence for her abundant fertility.

Rather than try and work things out, Stucley decides to build a castle designed by Arab “genius” architect Krak, who’s returned home with him from the Holy Land. As construction gets underway, Stucley grows increasingly obsessed with making his castle bigger and more impressive than anybody else’s – but his plan to win back control ultimately only creates more chaos.

Photo credit: Ellamae Cieslik

It’s quite a strange play in many ways: a lot happens, not all of it very easy to understand and much of it entirely unexpected; it delves into everything from religion to gender politics; and though overwhelmingly dark in tone, there are several moments of surreal humour (at one point Stucley attempts to found a new church, anointing his chosen priest by putting a toolbag on his head in lieu of a hat; at another the witch Skinner, having confessed to murdering the castle’s chief builder, is sentenced to carry his corpse around wherever she goes, only to end up getting rather too attached). The language is also an odd blend of semi-classical and modern, which takes a good few minutes to get used to, particularly as the dialogue is very fast-moving from the start.

Having said all that, Adam Hemming’s new production at The Space is excellent and incredibly atmospheric, with a set from Jo Jones that makes great use of the converted church building to create a show that feels epic in scale. Andy Straw’s lighting design recreates the gloom of rainy middle England, giving us at times only just enough light to see what’s going on, while sound effects from Keri Chesser fill in – on one occasion in rather distressing detail – events unfolding off stage.

The cast of ten give passionate performances, particularly Anthony Cozens as Stucley and Kate Tulloch as Skinner, each driven to the brink of madness by their desire to win. Chris Kyriacou’s Krak looks quietly – and comically – dismayed at first by the chaos he’s stumbled into, but ultimately reveals his own hidden demons, and the same goes for Shelley Davenport’s Ann, whose firm resolve as the play opens soon begins to fall away.

Photo credit: Ellamae Cieslik

With all these strong personalities fighting for supremacy, the play does get a bit shouty (not to mention sweary) at times – but there’s welcome light relief from the likes of Holiday (Matthew Lyon), who’s spent so much time constructing tall buildings he can’t stop looking up and who, ironically, is petrified of heights, and Hush (John Sears), an old man who’s been making himself useful over the last seven years by obligingly getting all the women pregnant.

Despite the quality of the production, I’m not sure enjoyable is the right word for The Castle – which would probably quite please its writer, who in 2012 was quoted as saying, “A good play puts the audience through a certain ordeal. I’m not interested in entertainment.”¬†All in all, this is the kind of play that leaves you feeling a bit bewildered and more than a little uncomfortable. Those who like to come away from the theatre understanding everything that just happened might want to steer clear; Barker doesn’t give us any easy answers, instead leaving it to the individual to interpret what we’ve seen in our own way. On the other hand, if you enjoy watching committed, compelling performances in a play that’s dramatic and darkly humorous, and which provides more than enough food for thought to keep you going for a good long while, this might just be the show for you.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… ūüėČ

Review: Suddenly…! at the Cockpit Theatre

I always imagine it must be pretty terrifying making theatre for children. Grownups will (usually) at least pretend to look interested, but with kids there’s no such guarantee. Fortunately, Really Big Pants Theatre’s Suddenly…! had its¬†young audience at the Cockpit Theatre spellbound¬†from the start… and the adults had a pretty good time too.

Photo credit: ID Photography

Suddenly…! takes elements from different fairy tales and mixes them together in an original, exciting¬†and heartwarming story about the importance of friendship. Red Riding Hood, Mr Wolf, a faulty genie and a wicked stepmother all make an appearance, as a young boy’s well-intentioned attempt to get his dad’s attention¬†goes horribly wrong, and we set out on a quest to recover three special items and¬†help Grandma¬†save the day.

The show’s written and performed by Really Big Pants’ Joe Bromley and Willow Nash, who play all the characters with the help of¬†assorted¬†interesting headwear and a variety of accents, not to mention boundless enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment. It’s thoroughly entertaining, but there’s also a strong educational element to the show; besides its core message about how friendship¬†and spending quality time together are¬†more important than having lots of stuff, there are also¬†brief lessons in history and science, a bit of¬†feminism (no princesses waiting¬†around for a man to rescue them¬†in this story, thank you very much), and¬†– to my delight – a tribute to the late great Roald Dahl. Afterwards, children can take away worksheets and even enter a story-writing competition for a chance to see their work published in the Ham & High newspaper.

Not surprisingly for a kids’ show, audience participation is encouraged, but in a gentle, positive way that means nobody feels singled out or uncomfortable – and it’s a testament to how enjoyable it all¬†is that everyone’s more than happy to join¬†in (yes, even I was up on my feet doing the genie dance). Judging by the enthusiasm of¬†our relatively small audience at the Cockpit, I can only imagine the noise levels when the show’s performed in a school hall full of excited children.

Photo credit: ID Photography

The show¬†is also very funny,¬†and like any good kids’ story contains jokes for both children and adults, so¬†everyone stays engaged and entertained throughout. But the humour isn’t the only thing that works on two levels –¬†as the story itself points out, it’s not just¬†children who need to be reminded¬†that material possessions aren’t everything, or that we should put¬†down our phones¬†once in a while and spend some time with the people we care about.

Suddenly…!¬†is a great story and a lot of fun for the whole family, performed with an infectious energy and enthusiasm by two ladies who clearly love what they do. It’s educational but never boring, and enjoyably silly without being patronising. And because Really Big Pants¬†encourage their audience – young and old – to go away and write their own stories, the fun doesn’t have to stop when the show ends.

Really Big Pants Theatre perform at theatres, festivals, schools and community venues. For all upcoming dates or to book them for an event, visit reallybigpants.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @reallybptheatre.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… ūüėČ