Written by Mervyn Peak, Directed by David Glass
Liverpool Playhouse (8th-12th May 2007)

Reviewed by Hana Leaper

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 throughout.

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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
Hi Colin Thanks for coming to the show, really glad you enjoyed it. Just to say though, David and Philip are actually 2nd cousins ...

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