Each reader creates their own images of the characters in Mervyn Peake's dark, weird trilogy about the final downfall of a degenerate, inbred aristocratic house. As a Peake virgin free of such preconceptions, the closest visual analogy I can find is that of an animated version of the more sinister episodes from David Lynch's film of Dune (this is meant as a compliment): a collection of grotesques who alternately loom, lurk and lurch throughout a labyrinthine castle expertly conjured from drapes, canes, a row of doorways and a number of moving (actor-propelled) flats.
The admirable physical discipline of the ensemble meshes with this flexible, evocative design and John Eacott's arresting score in a remarkable theatrical creation, telling the twin tales of the rise and fall of the ruthless Steerpike and the refusal of young Titus, 78th Earl of Groan, to be bound to the meaningless rituals and mouldering stones of Gormenghast. A cunningly-wrought gothic phantasmagoria which deservedly adds to Glass's reputation as a prime synthesist of theatre forms.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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