Jim Hutchon was at CTW ...
Steerpike and Swelter
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop
20th January 2009
Mark Preston is to be congratulated for this imaginative and impressive production which manages to cram the extraordinary wit and absurdity of three packed novels into two hours of rich theatre.
The Tolkein-like scale of the original is here reduced to a story of greed and ambition as a scullery boy Steerpike – played with boundless athleticism by Ben Fraser – cheats, schemes and murders his way to the innermost circles of the castle. As stepping stones, he uses the pathetic twin aunts of the heir – Anna Tilmouth and Evelin Bonella. He is suspected by the retainer Flay (Simon Thomas) but manages to avoid his clutches and those of the murderous greasy cook Swelter – a key element in creating the Castle’s character and brought larger than life by Mike Gordon.
A set of eccentric retainers also help to create the castle’s character. Steve Holding’s Prunesqualor captured the unhinged adviser to perfection, and John Hunt as the ritual master Barquentine yelled his way through with an impressive range of voices. The heir to the throne is a central character, well portrayed by Paul Macklin, who questions the pointless continuance of the line. This begins with his infatuation with a hissing and spitting feral girl – the Thing – played by Kat Tokley.
Hardly a foot was put wrong by the large cast during the opening night. The set pieces were full of grandeur and, of necessity, episodic as the play fast forwarded the early years. The music, largely by John Taverner, helped to create a perfect atmosphere.
NODA's Colin Butcher had this to say:
This was a well directed piece of drama, and used every available space in this small and intimate theatre. The set was well presented and depicted, with some imagination, a large rambling castle. The cast were all strong and believable characters, and the acting abilities of this Group were well demonstrated. The piece moved with good pace and the cast moved between scenes very well, although there was, necessarily, much curtain drawing and closing with the side stage entrances. The Lighting and effects were very good and I particularly liked the back-ground music, which helped to set the various scenes. Costumes and make-up were also both well presented. I must make particular note of the two fight scenes, with ‘real’ swords, this was tackled with relish by the relevant cast members, and to great effect, not an easy thing to do without the appropriate training. One thing I have always disliked is the miming of opening doors that are not there. For me this never quite works, because the door either seems to move each time it is ‘used’ and/or it opens a different way. From an audience point of view this action is not necessary as it only serves to confuse, and its absence would not detract from the piece. Overall a very fine piece of gothic fantasy drama from this accomplished Group.