There must be something special about a one-man show relating to addiction and mental illness if it has toured multiple venues across Australia and the UK. With outstanding reviews and audiences engaging with the show, it is clear that the dark, heavy and sensitive themes of the play are skillfully dealt with by writer and actor Peter Cook.
The audience enters to a stage littered with some props, chairs and stools. These are creatively used across the settings that the play traverses through. Cook is a great storyteller, both with his words and performance. He tirelessly braves through the 75-minute play, sharing his own experiences with addiction and rehabilitation through the fictionalised character of David. The writing is crisp and conversational – and in a space as intimate as the Old Red Lion theatre, the audience feels drawn into David’s world. Struggling as an actor and with his inner demons, David is in denial that he has a problem. As he begins to uncover the truths about himself, he moves towards acceptance and change. The narrative highlights his rehab centre meeting, among his daily events, as we move back and forth in time. So if you are looking for a story with a traditional climax and resolution, this is not it. Rather, by witnessing David’s everyday life and his mental chatter, the audience is able to gain a deeper sense of empathy and insight into the mind of an addict.
Pulling off a one-man show is never an easy feat. Cook sustains his performance with great energy and physicality. He also plays multiple characters from different nationalities (some which land well, some not quite)! Bridget Boyle’s masterful direction makes clever use of the space and ensures the story elicits compassion from the audience. However, the show does seem to drag on in some bits; something more adventurous within the writing or a shorter version of the script might have been even more impactful.
The highlight of the show was the beautiful light design, again making great creative use of the space and limited lighting available. The lights not only served the purpose of creating different realms on stage, but their ingenious design was art in itself. Especially with a touring production, such precision and charming thought put into the lights was a delightful surprise! The use of white powder to show drugs and how they tug on addiction was another nuance; the powder eventually morphs from being a prop into a symbol of more abstract themes.
The show ends with a poignant and powerful message as David lays out a bright towel saying, “I tried dying, and it didn’t work. I might as well try living,” Through the play, David makes no excuses for his actions, neither does he apologise for them. He simply lays bare his story, takes onus and creates a non-judgemental space to understand the mind of an addict.
Breaking the Castle is running until 11th November 2023 at the Old Red Lion theatre. Tickets can be found at https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/shows.html
Reviewer: Aditi Dalal
Reviewed: 7th November 2023
North West End UK Rating: