The Storefront Theatre’s The Castle, playing now in Toronto, has great acting but a poor script
Howard Barker’s script for The Castle is notoriously extreme, and has been described as actively hostile to its audience: not only opaque and twisted, but calculated to unnerve, upset, distress and bother. When he heard I was seeing it, a friend of mine (who had worked on it in university) even warned me off: “The Castle is a protracted excuse for men to say the word cunt a lot of times with impunity.”
The good news is that The Storefront is, as always, a singularly good acting company, here supplemented with a dazzling array of local stars. A cast of this caliber can work miracles, and often they do — but the script is such heavy lifting that by the end I was regretting not ducking out at intermission.
The story gets rolling when a medieval lord (Benjamin Blais) returns from a foreign Crusade. In his absence, his wife (Linda Prystawska), under the influence of a local witch-woman (Claire Burns), has converted his lands to an agrarian commune. The fields may be fallow and the sheep unsheared, but there’s free love and earthy vibes all ’round: even the church has been re-purposed into a barn.
From there, it sort of mucks about. The structure and thrust of the story is deliberately murky, and — at the risk of being overly-frank — after 80 minutes or so I found I just didn’t care any more. The only way to digest this play without a script in your hand is to take individual scenes on their own merits, and this is where the acting company shines, especially Blais and Burns, who are supremely watchable throughout.
The Castle is an ambitious project on points alone, and aside from its virtues as an exercise in artistic stretching, will attract a very happy audience in certain corners: this play has been debated, analyzed, studied and dissected to death, and theatrical academics are going to be happy as clams to see such a talented company putting this vaunted piece on a stage.
But coming at this as a member of the public, this felt like an excellent production of an un-producible play. Once I’d involuntarily “checked out” and given up on the plot, it all began to run together, a slurry of word salad, attempts at provocation, Shakespearean monologues and the word “cunt”.
Hey, I didn’t say my friend was wrong.
- The Castle plays through December 13th at the Storefront Theatre. (995 Bloor West, near Bloor and Ossington)
- Plays nightly at 8 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday matinee at 2 pm.
- Tickets are $20, and can be purchased online or from the venue box office (cash only) starting one half-hour before any performance. NB: this is an extremely small venue, so advance purchase is advisable.
- Audience advisory: This play includes vulgar and profane language, features frank and graphic depictions of violence (including sexual violence), and briefly uses a theatrical fog effect.
Production photo by John Gundy.