Gormenghast

Wed 22nd – Sat 25th February 2012

reviews

Dewei Jia

at 02:24 on 23rd Feb 2012

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James’s production of Gormenghast was a fun fiction to pass the evening. But the fun was limited by its problems.

The fictional thrill turned out to be an utter sleepiness full of scream. It was sometimes too noisy to be enjoyable, especially the first half. Several characters started each of their lines with a scream. It may have been designed to be thrilling; however, as the actors had little control over their own voices at their highest pitches, the screams became quite a deafening torture on the relatively small stage.

The stage is also chaotic with the fast changing of scenes. It made the stage a place where there is always factual presentation, but the importance of performance is therefore weakened.

The development of the story line was unexpectedly fast in between these quickly changing scenes. Especially at the end of the play, the discovery of the murder, the consequent death of Flay, Fuschia, and the revenge did not keep a similar pace with the slow story development before.

In comparison, the first half did not contribute equally to the whole story. The lengthy telling of the background was a drowsiness maker, even though there was screaming and shouting.

Having been critical till now, I still think it was a good student production, that was a mix of successes. The set of the castle ingeniously made use of the auditorium’s medieval like stone façade, which served to frame the action. Blue lighting and the projection of characters onto the stone wall amplified the play’s dramatic effects. The swivel chair serving as Countess Gertrude’s seat increased her mobility between scenes without compromises to her high prestigiousness. Although I have questioned the merit of fast scene changes, the simple items to symbolize each scene were thoughtfully laid out so that apart from the speed, the changes themselves went on quite well.

The acting was a success as well. I enjoyed Sam Young’s portrayal of Dr. Alfred Prunesquallor and Rhiannon Kelly’s Nannie Slagg. These eventful people in the castle all have a vivid character that you want to pity or hate spontaneously.

The acoustics were good except for the screaming and shouting parts. The crooning of the lamentable songs softened the weirdness that the deafening screaming brought. It led the audience into a mysterious setting and enhanced the mystery. The natural switch between reality and fantasy at the beginning and the end of the play was largely thanks to the cat meowing.

In conclusion, even though the play was flawed in several aspects, it is a good production that is haunting, enticing, and not to be missed.

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Karl Dando

at 10:16 on 23rd Feb 2012

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0disagrees

Peake's Gormenghast trilogy is one of the great underappreciated works of twentieth century literature, but its sprawling, byzantine intricacies are too the intricacies of the written word: to condense its crumbling majesty at all is to somewhat miss the point of the weight at all, and in this sense we must see this production as a kind of inevitable failure. Taken as a work in its own right, however, the production is not hard to recommend. Its formal faults are largely faults of practicality – the occasional clumsy rush of exposition, gaps that are easy to fill for those familiar with the books but may disorientate newcomers to this world – but the invented framing device of questioning the very reality of the world does somewhat ameliorate this in lending that abstracted dreamlike quality as justification. Though I'd contend that to give the audience this easy-out undermines somewhat the oppresive/impressive power of the place of Gormenghast, this is a production ultimately that is more interested in the characters of the castle than the castle itself, and to that end, hand-in-hand with the restraints of the Corpus Christi auditorium, the adaptation does what an adaptation should do: creates something new out of the text.

The stage, unimpressively minimal at first, is as unobtrusive as it must be to cram in the great span of the piece, but the costumes – surely more important in this approach – compensate mostly well with all the charm of children raiding a dressing-up box. The entire rashackle aesthetic is a success of this production, with particularly 'stagey' aspects, such as the miming of the floodwaters by the casts' waving hands up Fuschia's ankles, working well – I only wish that these elements might've been greater indulged, as they establish as sense of physicality and space in a way that the lighting and minimal set could often only hint at.

The cast are a mixed bag, though with some standout elements: Michael Crowe's Steerpike, barefoot throughout, brims over the all the obsequious menace you'd expect, and Jonathan Sims' Swelter is particularly inspired – a great contrast to the fat grotesque of the BBC adaptation, Sims paints the cook as a jackbooted thug. Clio Doyle and Sarah Jones as Clarice and Cora are a particular delight – skittish, vapid, birdlike – and a key example of where stylised design and performance meld best, as they literally swap voices for the bulk of their dialogue. Credit too must go to Sam Young for his camp flourish as Prunesquallor: the character is generally one of the more sympathetic grotesques amongst the lot of them, and Young communicates this in style. Titus, unfortunately, is portrayed rather nothingly by Charles Macrae, but given this production's casting of him as narrator for the bulk of the piece it is no great obtrusion.

In summary, the show is certainly not without flaws, and a devotee of the books – as is always the tedious way – might want to wrinkle their nose at certain liberties taken. But the nose-wrinklers will wrinkle always: as an independent piece of work (because how else can we really consider it?) 'Gormenghast' is an enticing, imaginative experiment. Not spectacular, but certainly deserving to be seen.

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