Patrick Neylan | 11 Mar 2013 23:20pm
They said it couldn’t be done. As if to prove the point, the BBC tried and failed horribly a dozen years ago. Mervyn Peake’s vast, sprawling Gormenghast trilogy seems to defy dramatisation, but that didn’t stop Sedos from trying with John Constable’s adaptation of the second novel.
If you don’t like abstract, experimental theatre, you’d have hated this (don’t worry, someone will be putting on an Alan Ayckbourn play near you soon). But it would have been impossible to do Gormenghast any other way.
Central London’s Bridewell Theatre was stripped bare, with minimalist stage furniture moved around by the cast as needed. And what a cast. These are seriously good actors, working hard to make the play work in a style that is always in danger of disappearing up its own backside, as plenty of similar productions have done since this style of theatre appeared half a century ago (or should I say ‘reappeared’, since the similarities with classical Greek tragedy are striking). The fact that it didn’t fail is testament to the talent of the actors and the cojones of director Andrew Marchant.
This was theatre as modern dance, only with almost no dance and very little music, played live by a sensibly understated group. I felt that every move had been calculated, with every second of the 2½ hours planned precisely. The only dancer, Alex Collins as The Thing, moved beautifully and was utterly transfixing as she seduced Myles Dobson as Titus, while the initially irritating water feature served as a perfect counterpoint to the brilliant movements of the underwater fight scene.
Downsides? There were odd moments that seemed to exist solely to demonstrate a dramatic technique, while only Emily Porritt as Fuschia truly went beyond a demonstration of acting technique to become fully human. In fairness to the rest of the cast, notably Sebastian Revell’s Steerpike and Gerry Skeens as the Countess, humanity was the last thing their characters needed. But as the rigid of structures of Gormenghast society, dedicated to 30 generations of ritual and “No Change”, began to fracture under Steepike’s scheming, emotion and humanity began to exert themselves.
I don’t think Sedos intended to give its audience an easy ride, pushing theatre as far as they could. This style of theatre isn’t for everyone, but, taken purely on its own terms, Gormenghast was an unquestioned success.
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- : 26/02/2013