The Octagon Theatre, Bolton; Saturday 29th April 2017.
Dodie Smith’s second-most-famous novel, I Capture The Castle, is centred around the romantic exploits of a heroine named Cassandra – a young lady who uses her personal diary to ‘capture’ the essence of the castle that she and her eccentric family call home.
Director Brigid Larmour spent more than five years attempting to ‘capture’ the essence of Smith’s novel, adapting it into a musical drama for the stage. It is not immediately obvious whether this is a serious play with some bonus songs added or whether this is actually meant to be a cockney-knees-up style of musical. But then the classification is really not that important and is irrelevant when the ultimate conclusion is drawn: this is a surprisingly entertaining and agreeable performance spectacle.
A single factor stands out above all else: Lowri Izzard’s portrayal of the story’s heroine, Cassandra. Cassandra’s general theme has been played out a million times on stage, screen, book, song, etc – she is a young woman who looks for love, she finds it, she loses it, she learns some tough lessons, she gets on with her life. The concept of Cassandra has been seen many times before and there is no doubt it will be seen again.
Izzard’s performance has an elusive x factor that somehow manages to inspire pity and support; she delivers Cassandra as the theatrical equivalent of Leicester City F.C. At the start of proceedings she is drab, dull, and almost annoying – with her sensible hair in a pony tail, her librarian’s dress sense, even Izzard’s amusingly suppressed Welsh accent seems just odd. But as the plot develops she grows stronger, she rises up, and by the time she embarks on her final, determined quest to get her man you know that you’re a secret admirer, and if she puts a foot wrong now you’ll be so angry you’ll have to throttle whoever’s sat next to you.
Two other notable features elevate this production to be more than just another lazy but still-profitable adaptation of an English literary classic. Firstly, the musical / lyrical input – it felt appropriate and suitable, choreographed carefully to accentuate and pronounce emotional highs and lows in the plot. Secondly the set itself was innovative – despite seeming to be a tall, messy pile of wooden furniture, it actually created a 3-dimensional platform for the cast, quite literally lifting the whole performance.
On the face of it this is a musical about a posh family in 1930s England. That may immediately suggest that this is mainly aimed at an older, more middle or upper class audience, maybe an audience who are yearning for a dose of nostalgia.
But actually, the elements – the plot, the set, the characters, and the music – all combine pleasingly well and conspire to deliver a performance that many may find surprising and delightful.