Howard Barker’s The Castle isn’t exactly a lightweight production to take on, written in the eighties it’s a complicated, and wordy, battle of the sexes. Directed by Adam Hemming, and performed under the vaulted ceilings of The Space, the play feels relevant again today, as the scandal of a Hollywood producer unravels, and similar accusations are no doubt on the horizon.
Set in an unknown, but probably medieval era, a group of men return from the crusades, and are shocked to find that everything has changed. The women they left behind have abandoned their farm land and their church, they have birthed children to the old men, and taken up lesbian relationships.
Stucley (Anthony Cozens) is devastated to find his wife (Shelley Davenport) has taken up with the obsessive, and controlling Skinner (Kate Tulloch). Angry and rejected he enlists Krak (Chris Kyriacou) to design a castle, a giant phallic symbol, which will help restore patriarchy. As the build continues, society crumbles, and the gulf between the sexes widens. Barker’s incessant use of foul language seems shocking at first, but soon blends in to the normal altercations between the men and the women.
Whilst not the easiest plot to follow, this production does admirably in keeping the audience engaged, this is mainly down to passionate performances from the cast; Cozens and Tulloch in particular, portray their characters with heated passion, which does help focus the audience on the many twists and turns.
The play switches from bawdy comedy to Shakespearean tragedy, and everything in between. Never quite knowing what to expect next does add a sense of astonishment at times. Matthew Lyon as the builder with the egg-shell skull, carries off the jocular scenes beautifully, while Matthew Brett as the Priest, forced to re-write the gospel, also enjoys some of the funnier lines.
The intimate staging at The Space doesn’t allow for much in the way of set, however, the production makes good use of the upper balcony to convey hills, and latterly the castle. The construction of the castle itself is also well portrayed through scaffolding, which is erected like a giant Meccano set in the first act. Jo Jones, responsible for set and costumes, has gotten the look just right in both areas, with the ladies’ dresses providing the perfect blend of power and promiscuity.
Possibly the most compelling version of The Castle that I’ve seen, this production takes Barker’s turgid text, large swathes of which is written in upper case, and portrays it in a visually appealing manner. The themes of power and control are well illustrated, and there is a real sense of passion running throughout.