"A bold and inventive adaptation"
by Rebecca Wall for remotegoat on 14/04/12

Gormenghast: a crumbling castle whose inhabitants teeter on the edge of insanity, drowning in ritual, tradition, and hierarchy. The tale begins with the much-awaited birth of an heir to the ageing Lord Groan, and the ripples of excitement which emanate from the joyous news, upsetting the dust long-settled on the castle and its plethora of eccentric characters. As the young Titus grows, however, so too does a dark and brooding force in the ambitious young Steerpike, a one-time kitchen boy who will seemingly stop at nothing in his thirst for power and advancement.

This production had a hard act to follow in the form the BBC's masterful four-part adaptation of Mervyn Peake's novel in 2000, and although Jonathan Rhys Meyer's Steerpike is probably impossible to surpass (and haunted my experience of the play), the brilliant and resourceful use of the space of St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden, combined with atmospheric accompanying music ensured that my attention was soon entirely absorbed, despite its somewhat operatic length, and the hardness of the pews! Indeed, while the BBC condensed two novels (Titus Groan and Gormenghast) into four hours, ample space was dedicated here to the unfolding drama of the first part of the trilogy, allowing both Peake's prose and the at times virtuoso performance of the actors to really shine, and indeed this play seemed more strictly faithful to the original plot. I was particularly impressed by the attempt to overcome the limitations of the stage through the use of projected videos and pre-recorded monologues, which overall worked very well. Taken as a whole, the production hummed with energy, moving dextrously from the hilarity of satire to a real sense of a world and a family that is falling inexorably and tragically to pieces. Roll on part two of the Gormenghast trilogy!

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