If you haven’t read Gormenghast, why not? Yes, it’s daunting – my copy is over 1000 pages, with tiny writing, although it is all three books squished together. When I read it two years ago, I began by telling myself I’d take it ten pages at a time – but ended up reading the whole thing in under three days.
I’m a fast reader, but it is amazing. I say that about a lot of books but Gormenghast has something totally unique in its array of characters, its tone, its style, and the delights of its twisted and captivating plot. It follows the rise of the charismatic and ruthless Steerpike amidst the chaos of a castle on the brink of upheaval. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you like fantasy/gothic then I would (gently) shove you in its direction.
The reason for this blog post is actually not the book, but a stage adaption I saw just over three weeks ago, by the Carabosse theatre company. It isn’t running anymore, so this is a late review, but nonetheless an enthusiastic one. Take this as a review of the company itself, as I’m sure they’ll put on a lot more productions in the future!
As a fan of the book, I was excited/nervous to go see a play, fully aware how easily it could have been terrible. To take a book as long and complicated as Gormenghast and condense it into a two hour script is an impressive feat, and managing to do it while preserving the tone, characters and essence of the books even more so, but I don’t think I could have imagined a better Gormenghast in my head.
As well as being entertaining (with all the lines taken straight from the books, so I recognised a fair few) it was amazingly cast (particularly Fuchsia – although I’m probably just saying that because she’s my favourite character) and the set design (which I got to see up close afterwards) was incredible. If you’ve read the books, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say they even included the multi-coloured tree and the underwater effect in the penultimate scenes was fantastic (beginning to run out of gushing words here…!)
Swelter (image credit: Paul Hands)
I’m trying hard to avoid simply listing aspects, but I will say that – Steerpike managed to be the perfect mix of awkward and evil; Fuchsia, who could’ve been so overdone, was perfect; Lord and Lady Groan were wonderfully terrible parents; Cora and Clarice, Flay, the Prunesquallors, Swelter and Nanny Slagg all as mad as they should have been; and Titus, although only on stage towards the end, was great as the voice of sanity in the midst of chaos.
Overall, the play really managed to capture the quirky, indescribeable Thing that makes Gormenghast what it is. Not only that, but it was funny and entertaining, and I would definitely go see whatever they put on next.