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I Capture the Castle is a new musical at The Octagon Theatre, Bolton, based on the first novel by acclaimed author Dodie Smith. Although arguably her most famous book now is The Hundred and One Dalmatians, unfortunately many people know this work from the saccharin-sweet Disney film versions, rather than the beautifully written, charming and slightly dark book that they were based on.

Dodie Smith was a great writer, and I Capture the Castle was an immediate success when it came out in 1948. Although I had heard of the book, I didn’t get round to reading it until a few years ago and what I remember most about it was the time that it captured and feelings that it evoked, and which remain with the reader long after. It is a slightly quirky coming of age story, about an eccentric family who are down on their luck. There is a detached novelist father with writer’s block, a Bohemian stepmother, the older sister who aspires to marry well and the rather dreamy and creative younger sister, who is the narrator. I must admit that I was a bit unsure about how it would work as a musical, but this is no ‘jazz hands’, chorus line production – it is a gentle and absorbing piece of musical theatre, where dance is used to naturally enhance the mood and emotions.

The story, and the show, both begin with Cassandra’s opening diary entry: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”. The set is simple but striking – a stairway leading to a balcony with columns of jumbled furniture and medieval arches. The Mortmain family live a simple life in a crumbling castle, which they rented with the last of the money remaining from a successful book written by the father, who is now suffering from crippling writer’s block. Down on their uppers (as it used to be called) they all relish the excitement and opportunity represented by two rich young American men who turn up at their door. Could this be the answer to all their prayers?

The costumes and music perfectly capture the feel of the 1930s and there are elements of jazz, swing and even folk music running through the atmospheric score. Dance permeates throughout, with the characters’ style reflecting their personality. This is a great company, who work very well together. Lowri Izzard steals the show as the charmingly naïve Cassandra, with her enchanting vocals, expressive dance and natural inner glow. I also enjoyed her rather bonkers stepmother, Topaz, with her more exotic and Bohemian style. The Americans are altogether brighter, louder and more exciting, contrasting sharply with the Mortmains and their country-green simplicity.

The only thing my companion and I were slightly phased by was the gargoyle character, who appeared occasionally and seemed to be the ‘spectre at the feast’. I have my idea about what he represents, but I will leave you to make up your own mind – especially as I may be completely wrong!

I highly recommend this production, it’s something unusual and special.  Don’t expect bright lights and singalong choruses, this is a much gentler and more emotive experience that will leave you walking away with the same kind of feeling as reading the book, and what better accolade could you have than that?

Book now – the production runs until 6th May.

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