Enter the Mortmain family, dressed in approximately 50 shades of green. Halt. That’s not an allusion to a risqué plot. Expect some surface level romance and some music that may edge your limbs out of their spectator stasis. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle has been adapted for the stage and coerced into a musical. Set in the 1930’s, the plot centres around Cassandra, and her penniless “eccentric” family. Her Dad, James, is going through the most stereotypical cranky writers block imaginable, her Mum is plying him with oatcakes and legitimising his existence. Her sister Rose is pining for a man, preferably in the shape of a cash cow. They are all pining for the elusive signifier of luxury, peach towels. Just like world war one, but not really, everything is shook up by the arrival of some Americans. The story and music unfurl with some entertaining moments.
Lowri Izzard bursts onto the stage as Cassandra singing with endearing enthusiasm about her pursuit to “capture the castle.” She wants to write in such an all encompassing way as to convey everything around her, harnessing letters, words and sentences to journal her life in the disheveled castle. The tone is set, we’re in store for a chirpy musical. Here, director Brigid Lamour’s intention seems well thought out, a jovial journey with an interesting character at the helm. However, from this point forward the tone keeps shifting so much so that it’s difficult to stay with it. Teresa Howard’s lyrics and Oli Jackson’s musical direction begins to confuse, especially when the Mortmain family enters into a chant like song, longing for a change in their circumstances, “wishing on an angel, calling on a devil.” While they’re singing, a man dressed as an gargoyle ominously turns up and stalks the stage. It seems to be suggesting a Midsummer Night’s Dream like twist, the gargoyle, a Titania of sorts. Soon after this, the two wealthy American men turn up. Magic or Coincidence? It isn’t cleared up and is never revisited.
Regardless, Rose, actress Kate Batter, has got what she has been longing for, Simon and Neil, the stereotypical American men, played by Theo Boyce and Luke Dale. Now she just has to win one of them over. Cassandra unexpectedly follows along a similar narrative. After such a bold opening, it feels like her character is done a disservice when she then spends the majority of the play capitulating to the excitable Stephen, a local orphan not so subtly played by Isaac Stanmore, while simultaneously yearning for one of the half realised American characters. It feels like Teresa Howard’s adaptation has favoured depicting the love stories of the young girls, especially to the detriment of Cassandra and what set her apart in the beginning.
While Cassandra and Rose are navigating their murky romances, their father, James Mortmain becomes the focus. It’s all about him and his struggle with his second novel. Ben Watson plays James as if he’s playing a version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and consequently, it doesn’t feel like he is worthy of the collective effort of his family, or the stage time. Cassandra rallies around him putting her efforts into trying to inspire him, to coax out this second novel. Topaz, played by Suzanne Ahmet, continues to fuss over him. James is such a caricature that it’s difficult to engage with this story line. Consequently, whether or not he does end up writing his second novel, brings about indifference. The cliff hanger of whether or not they get the coveted peach towels feels more gripping.
However, it isn’t all ill conceived, some moments shine through from this difficult production. With the arrival of the American men comes the introduction of the most arresting characters on stage. Julia St John and Shona White play the mother of the Americans Mrs Cotton and their Aunt Leda respectively. They collectively conquer the stage with a warning to the love sick girls Cassandra and Rose. They sing “They’re Only Men” with such vigour that it feels like a kind of prelude to Chicago’s “He Had it Coming.” This song stands out in isolation from the rest of the plot and music. A credit to Stephen Edis, in charge of music. It is the highlight, giving us a flavour of what a good musical it had the potential to be, or at least what a good spin off these two might have made.
In sum, though we are taken through some twists and turns in the plot, the production still feels skeletal, mainly because the characters actions are inadequately underpinned by believable motivations. The songs add a little flesh, but still, much like the aforementioned Frankenstein, it doesn’t feel adequately complete or captivating enough to make the whole thing work.