Written by Mervyn Peak, Directed by David Glass
Gothic, grotesque, surreal, disturbing, hilarious, sinister: David Glass’s
production of Gormenghast makes ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’
look like a Disney production and would, in all probability, give Tim
Burton nightmares. An ensemble cast of eight morph into thirteen disparate
characters, bound together by the inbred inequality of the gated kingdom
- each character’s distinctively pronounced physicality signalling
their idiosyncratic lunacy. The cast also transform into a menacing black
robed chorus, manoeuvring the few props (doors, poles and cloths) to create
a kinetic kingdom pervasive beyond materiality, that expands from and
into the gloom far beyond the confines of the stage. Fire, flood, decay
and blood are recreated with sound and movement, and at times the action
takes on the stylistics of a macabre Punch and Judy show.
It’s certainly advantageous to have some prior knowledge of Mervyn
Peak’s epic about the dynasty ‘Gormenghast’, not because
of any fault in the production, but because of the integral strangeness
of the piece. For example, Earl Sepulchrave’s descent into madness
and belief he is an owl is superbly represented when the actor opens his
arms and is transfigured by the appearance of feathers on the inside of
his cloak. But as the play is based more upon physical action than dialogue,
it isn’t concretely verbalised that that Sepulchrave believes he’s
an owl - leaving those who don’t know the story scratching their
heads a little. The wild girl - although superbly physicalised and entirely
in keeping with the fairytale gone dark - is something of a mystery for
the uninitiated. Also - for many - it is the wit of Peake’s dialogue
and characterisation that holds Gormenghast’s magic, and although
humorous (as already mentioned) the production is a primarily a piece
of physical theatre.
Visually intriguing, this visceral, energetic production is thoroughly
unsettling and conjures a dark magic which keeps the viewer curse-bound
Comment left by Colin Serjent on 10th May, 2007 at 17:29
This was a stunning spectacle. I have not read the Peake trilogy but that did not detract one bit from what was an enthralling evening.The actor who played Flay was brill. I loved the mechanical sounds which were produced every time he took a step. The productions artistic directors Gemma and Deborah have brought to the Playhouse and Everyman, except for one or two exceptions, in the past couple of years, have been highly impressive.
By the way I met director David Glass -who is no relation to music composer Philip - during the 1980s when I attended a mime workshop at the old delapidated Unity theatre building. It particularly brings back happy memories because i fell in love with a beautiful woman I met there. Alas we are no more. Ahhh...
Comment left by James Wooldridge (Titus) on 14th May, 2007 at 18:48
Thanks for coming to the show, really glad you enjoyed it. Just to say though, David and Philip are actually 2nd cousins ...