Watermill Young Company - Gormenghast
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Watermill Young Company - Gormenghast

11th to 14th November 2015.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

A challenge well met

Watermill youth theatre take on Mervyn Peake's mighty Gormenghast

Watermill Young Company: Gormenghast, at The Watermill, Bagnor, from Wednesday, November 11, to Saturday, Nov 14

The stage, seen through a haze, had numerous ladders propped against the walls and the overall impression was of gloom for this was the massive sprawling castle of Gormenghast, full of secrets, hidden ways and home to the Groan family.

I must admit to being bewildered about what was happening by the time the interval came, but full of admiration for the Watermill Young Company who, having taken up this challenge and directed by Seamus Allen, brought Mervyn Peake's story to life with striking effect. The action was enhanced by dramatic lighting, make-up and music and although sometimes the music drowned the words, it didn't matter, for the atmosphere of evil was always sustained, albeit with occasional very funny lines, if you could hook your mind out of the general murkiness to appreciate them.

Sepulchrave (Samuel Steele-Childe), the 76th Earl, wants to see his newborn son Titus but is prevented from doing so and since the Countess (Rebecca Chadder) is more concerned with her cats than her child, Titus (Olivia Snell) grows up with one aim – to leave Gormenghast. This ambition is encouraged by a fey child known as The Thing (Florence Bound) who lives a life of freedom.

Sepulchrave wants to leave the castle and his sisters Cora and Clarice (wonderfully creepy performances from Chrissy Lightowler and Emilie Butter) are desperate to take his place. The young servant Steerpike (a sterling interpretation of the role from Oliver Norman), who has his own agenda, agrees to provide golden thrones if they will help him.

In the second half, Steerpike has become Master of Ritual, having killed Barquetine (William Barrett), the former holder of the title. The Countess announces "there is mischief in the castle" (what an understatement that is) and rapidly things come to a conclusion. A downpour floods Gormenghast and in a fight with Titus, Steerpike is killed.

Since his father, his sister Fuchsia (Maia Brown) and aunts have died along the way, Titus is eligible to take up his title, but chooses to leave Gormenghast for ever.

There were no weak links in this production, which required not only good acting but precise, synchronised movement throughout. The Watermill Young Company took on a big challenge here and there is no doubt they successfully achieved their aim.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN