I Capture the Castle (Watford Palace Theatre and Octagon Theatre Bolton, 2017)
Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is one of my favourite novels of all time; I have read and reread it many times, utterly enchanted by the eccentric world of the Mortmain family. It includes one of my favourite opening lines (“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”) and characters I hold dear. It was also meaningful to other members of my family, so when we realised that the musical adaptation would be kicking off its run nearby, we had to make a family outing of it. I’ll admit I was torn between being very excited and very nervous about the musical: I was excited to see how they staged and interpreted the characters, but I struggled to see how it would work as a musical. However, I have never been so glad to have an adaptation surpass all my expectations: this was a wonderful musical that found a myriad of ways to maintain the tone of the novel and characters.
Cassandra Mortmain is the narrator and protagonist of I Capture the Castle in both the novel and this adaptation. Determined to ‘capture’ the specific world of her family living in the castle, she starts writing a journal, detailing all about her family, the new landlords, and her thoughts on love, writing, and growing up. Lowri Izzard does a wonderful job of portraying Cassandra in all her imagination, naivety, and innocence. Cassandra is a difficult character to get right: for all that she is innocent, reserved, and full of dreams, she is also impulsive, stubborn, and capable of angry outbursts. I particularly liked the way that her wardrobe changed throughout the show: the character wears the same green outfit right up until the beginning of the Act II, however, after her visit to London, during which she is forced to grow up and accept some hard truths, her wardrobe changes to floral dresses that do make her look a little older.
The other female characters were similarly well done. I was particularly happy with Suzanne Ahmet’s Topaz and Kate Batter’s Rose: two characters which, if not carefully portrayed, could end up being stereotypes. Suzanne Ahmet managed to find a balance between Topaz’s strangeness and the grounding of her fears over what will happen if Mortmain no longer needs her. Kate Batter, meanwhile, clearly showed the practical and caring side of Rose beneath the surface, seeking a financial solution for their family problems. One of the main criticisms of the show has been that most of the male characters are not as well interpreted as the female characters; whilst I can see where this criticism is coming from, I didn’t find it much of a problem since I Capture the Castle isn’t really about the male characters. The novel has become well-loved by many because it includes so many examples of very different, well-written female characters; the male characters are simply not as intriguing.
It took me a couple of songs to get fully on board with the musical element of the show, however after the first big proper ensemble song, it definitely found the right pace. Far from being a distracting element of the adaptation, it was actually a strong way to get across the characters’ thoughts without having to do too much exposition through speech. Much of Smith’s novel consists of Cassandra’s thoughts on the events happening around her, thoughts that she would never share with the other characters. Her songs in particular were very well done and brought a magic and depth to the show that would otherwise have been lacking.
There were only two aspects of the original novel that I was slightly disappointed to find not included in the musical. The first was Thomas, the younger brother of Rose and Cassandra. Whilst he is not a crucial character in the overall narrative, it was a shame to miss out on some of the moments in which he is important in the novel: the moment in which he realises that Mortmain’s writing is not nonsense but genius, for example. The other aspect, though I have no idea how they would stage this, was the ending of the novel, in which Cassandra simply writes ‘I love you I love you I love you’ until she runs out of space in her journal. However, I can appreciate that the show wanted to end on the uplifting note of Cassandra having captured what she wanted to in her writing rather than the less uplifting note of the heartbreak from a first love.
Overall, this was a wonderful adaptation that remains faithful to the tone of the source material, and I would really encourage you to see it. It has finished its run at Watford Palace Theatre and will now be touring the UK so do have a look to see if it will be showing near you; I could definitely see it becoming successful as it gains momentum during this tour. I think the best recommendation I can give for this musical is that when we left the theatre, my Mum commented that she didn’t even need me to tell her how much I had enjoyed it, she could tell from my smile alone.