Breaking The Castle

By Peter Cook. Director: Caroline Stacey. Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. 7-9 April, 202

Reviewed : 8 April, 2022*

Photo : supplied

Breaking the Castle premiered in Canberra in 2020 and had a short season in Melbourne in 2021. This season in Parramatta is short too. A pity, because it means far too few have seen this extraordinary piece of theatre that looks closely into addiction – how it gains power, how it holds power and how hard it is to break that power.

Written and performed by Peter Cook, it follows an actor’s gradual submission to the temptation of turning to alcohol and drugs via the debilitating effects of depression and anxiety caused by failed auditions, incompetent directors, unemployment, family problems …

Photo : supplied

It describes the highs and the lows and the need for bigger highs. It explores the loneliness, the need to belong, even though that means being dragged further into despair. It wades into even murkier depths: the temptation to give in to self-harm, even to end life completely …

It follows, too, the long road to recovery – the pain of therapy, the drying out, the temptation to give in, the exultation of success, the awareness of how easy it is to regress.

As an actor, Cook knows how to reach the audience without preaching. His message is clear – and he explains in concisely. This is what can happen. This is how it does. This is what it feels like. This is why it’s so bloody hard to give up.

Photo : supplied

Cook is an athletic performer. He moves quickly from one scene to another, using the levels of the large, raked rostrum and small piles of related paraphernalia that are judiciously spaced around it to take the audience with him from King’s Cross, to waiting for an audition, to a therapy clinic in Thailand. He is never too long in one scene, never takes too long to explain but does so unambiguously.

Sound and lighting punctuate the production. Lights spotlight him in some scenes, wash over him as he lies prostrate on the stage in others. Music breaks a moment, introduces another. Actor and technicians work in perfect time, despite the many scenes and varied effects. This work has been carefully rehearsed to ensure perfect continuity.

Breaking the Castle has a strong, potent message. It’s well written, creatively directed and powerfully performed. Hopefully ACT’s The Street Theatre and Peter Cook will take it to more and bigger audiences.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine.

*Opening night of current production