Dave is a struggling actor, prone to addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, women, gambling, or as he tells us in his opening monologue, the high of acting in front of an audience. Such is the pull of his addictions that he finds it difficult to maintain his career, skipping auditions, and then haranguing his agent when he doesn’t get the roles.
In his first play, Breaking the Castle, Peter Cook has created a searing glimpse into the mind of an addict, in this case, an actor. In a stream-of-consciousness monologue, he transports his audience into the chillingly surreal world of self-pleasure, in which his character enthusiastically wallows, until two events bring about his redemption.
An accomplished actor, as well as playwright, Cook, in a tour de force performance, offers an unflinching portrayal of his character, authenticated by his own life experience. Often addressing the audience directly, his language is confronting and appropriately coarse. His descriptive writing is impressive, particularly during the sequence in which he describes the sensations experienced when using the drug ice.
Throughout, he deftly changes voice to indicate various characters, although often there is not sufficient differentiation between the voices to recognise which character is speaking. This was particularly noticeable in the rehab sequence in which each of the patients appear to come from a different country. Norway, Germany, America and India, he tells us, but none speak with an accent.
Imogen Keen’s stark sloping platform, surrounded by the detritus of Dave’s lifestyle, creates a versatile and atmospheric environment, in which, drawing on her considerable directorial skill, Caroline Stacey has employed an imaginative lighting design by Gerry Corcoran, and a dreamlike soundscape of voices and city sounds by Kimmo Vennonen, to create a seamless, progression through the series of locales essential to Dave’s story, including Dave’s flat, a TAB, a casting agency, a street in Kings Cross, a hospital and even a remote outback town.
Breaking the Castle is not only an impressive first play from Peter Cook – in providing a compelling insight into several scourges which inflict contemporary society – it never flags during its entire 90 minute duration. It also provides a compelling showcase of Cook’s not inconsiderable acting skills, and for both these reasons, deserves your attention.
Breaking The Castle
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Saturday 29 February 2020
Season continues to 14 March 2020
Information and Bookings: www.thestreet.org.au
Butter Factory Theatre, Lincoln Causeway, Wodonga
Season: 24 – 28 March 2020
Information and Bookings: www.hothousetheatre.com.au
Image: Peter Cook stars as Dave in Breaking The Castle – photo by Shelly Higgs
Review: Bill Stephens OAM