Adapting a novel into a musical, especially when the novel is as well-loved as Dodie Smith’s 1948 I Capture The Castle, is never going to please everybody.
That being said there are some story-telling conventions which apply to most musicals and you ignore them at your peril.
Firstly you need a well-defined, and preferably active, central character. They need to have a strong want and, even if you don’t like them, you need to be able to empathise with them (Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is a murderer complicit in cannibalism however we can empathise with him because he was so badly wronged by Judge Turpin).
Finally you need some sort of obstacle which they have to overcome in order to reach their goal, and it’s good to have had them learn something and change from the experience along the way.
Whose story is it?
What do they want?
What’s stopping them from getting it?
Ideally all three questions need to be answered within the first 15-20 minutes of a show so that the audience is able to invest their emotional capital for the evening ahead.
The musical of I Capture The Castle which has just opened at Watford’s Palace Theatre does not, I’m afraid, answer those three questions, and as a result the show simply doesn’t catch light.
It has a passive central character, with an ill-defined want (is it to write a book about her family?) and actually there’s nothing stopping her doing it. Do I care about her? No, I’m afraid I don’t. It makes for a very long evening…
That being said, there’s a group of actors on stage trying their best to make the magic happen, and Lowri Izzard as the protagonist, Cassandra, makes a believable and likeable seventeen year-old girl, even if she doesn’t have much to do by way of driving the plot.
Isaac Stanmore’s farm-boy, Stephen, is underused, and is probably who Cassie should end up with, but doesn’t. Though I’m not convinced that even in the innocent 1930’s a Suffolk yokel, no matter how well he scrubbed up, would have been able to make it in Hollywood.
There are occasional flashes of tunefulness from Edis’s score, especially the title song, but in too many scenes the tension builds to the ‘song point’ then rides right over it with no song. Bizarrely I think there are only five musical numbers in the whole of act one (though as there was no list of musical numbers in the programme, I may just have been mistaken).
What there definitely is in the programme is a piece from the director (and Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Watford Palace Theatre), Brigid Larmour, explaining how she was first given a draft of the show in 2012. That’s five years ago. The show is also being co-produced by The Octagon Theatre, Bolton who will, presumably, have seen and read a copy of the script and score. When you’ve been working on a show for seven years, as Howard and Edis have this one, it must be very difficult to see the wood for the trees so actually I’m inclined to look elsewhere for the show’s shortcomings.
Did noone at either The Palace or The Octagon suggest to the writers that there were improvements which could have been made? Even in rehearsals? I can’t believe that having received a valid suggestion for enhancing their show any creative would have missed the opportunity to implement it, which is a shame as there were whispers of a far better show trying to get out.
It’s just possible that by fixing the book during the run, writing the missing songs, and cutting some of the more extraneous material, I Capture The Castle could be a hit. As things stand it’s an also ran. A missed opportunity. And we are all the worse for that.