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REVIEWS: Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Assembly Rooms, August 2023


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Andrew Melrose  |  15 August 2023

Leaving the theatre, my mind and emotions were in turmoil as I tried to process this remarkable play dealing with addiction. Though it’s hard to watch at times there are glimpses of light, especially at the end, and Peter Cook delivers such a captivating performance that you instantly become attached to and root for him. The lighting, pacing, and acting are cleverly executed, making the message effectively conveyed in a way that’s not in your face. The script is well written, and basing it on real moments gives it the realistic quality that sends this show to the next level. A show that has the power to teach and inspire, as it has profoundly affected me and transformed the way I see others.

"A show that has the power to teach and inspire


Breaking the Castle production photo


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Breaking The Castle at Assembly Rooms Edinburgh

Chris Omaweng  |  20 August 2023

This story feels like a road well-travelled, but there are plenty of people who fall into drug addiction and mental ill health who aren’t around to tell the tale. There are even fewer who have put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to tell it, and there are fewer still who have travelled to the Edinburgh Fringe all the way from Australia. This show is not, however, a triumphalist endeavour: David Smith (Peter Cook) is not placing judgement on anyone who doesn’t successfully complete rehab, and indeed there were several points in this candid story in which he took positive steps to quit the process and attempt to go his own way.

It’s also one of those shows that has a lot of narrative to squeeze into an hour, and it hits the ground running and – pardon the analogy – David does behave as though he really has taken amphetamines, with an almost mesmerising cacophony of different characters at a rehab session, with distinct personalities and different nationalities. There are times, particularly when David is in protracted conversations with his recovery mentor, but also when friends and relatives try to contact him with increasing concern and alarm (the rehab clinic takes his mobile phone away on checking in, but it appears nobody told him that beforehand) when it is easy to forget that this is a single-performer show.

Based on his own lived experiences, Cook’s play also reveals the reality of a jobbing actor, and he takes whatever work is available (that is, within the boundaries of reason) – one audition was for a Mortein advert. Mortein, for the uninitiated, like me, is an Australian brand of pest and insect control products. Seeing David roll around on the floor pretending to be a dying cockroach exposed to the apparently fast and effective Mortein spray was a moment of sheer hilarity, comic relief (if you will) from the darker elements of the story.

There were other career options available to him, including ones his family would have preferred him to take up, all of which were gloriously pitted against one another in a horse race. David’s commentary is amusing as much as it is riveting. The play both describes and dramatizes what leads up to taking substances, whether smoked or sniffed, its brief high and the long aftereffects. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly inclined to give crystal meth a go for myself any time soon.

It’s not the first time I’ve come across a group session on stage, or indeed on screen, at a rehab centre: we all know they do that thing where someone admits for the first time, “My name is X, and I’m an alcoholic”, which results in a round of applause. There aren’t many shows, however, that delve into as much detail as this one does about a person’s level of resistance, and seeing David go from outright denial to genuine and sincere acceptance is very moving. He was, at one point, admitted to a secure psychiatric unit, and there was family tragedy as David’s sister dies from acute myeloid leukaemia. That there is still light at the end of the tunnel, and that he finds it, is extraordinary. “I tried dying, and it didn’t work. I might as well try living,” he muses. A powerful and poignant production.

Breaking the Castle production photo


★ ★ ★ ★

Graeme Strachan  |  August 2023

Addiction is one of the most common hidden diseases, but one that runs almost hand‑in‑hand with the stresses of modern life and the precariousness of being an actor. Thus we meet David Smith, a jobbing actor and performer, who is also keenly held in the grip of myriad interlinked chemical and physical dependencies.

Based on a fictionalised version of his own experiences, Peter Cook’s play shows a man fighting through the lengthy gauntlet of breaking his addictions and dealing with trauma. It’s a bleak but wholly believable account that uses a variety of narrative devices to slowly peel back the layers of bluster, self-deception and bravado of the man while uncovering the shadows of his story and the roots of his inner trauma.

Bridget Boyle’s direction makes smart use of the small space, and the few props scattered around the stage and handfuls of white powder that cloud the air all pull into a captivating and entrancing descent and rebirth. The action never gets too still or moves around for too long, while the changes in light and ambience easily pull the audience through the web of locations and moments.

Sometimes, the performance does threaten to be a little too much, however. There’s a moment early on, in a rehab centre meeting, where Cook plays a wide variety of peoples from various nations and the play threatens to turn into a showreel for potential voice-over work. It’s not unwelcome, or in any way badly performed, but comes early on and as such a barrage as to feel a little awkward. It’s a choice, and one that is soon forgotten as the story picks up momentum flashing back and forth in time, flitting around the globe.

It’s clear that this is an important project for all involved, and it walks well that thin line between educational and entertaining without ever becoming preachy or self-satisfied. It’s a humble and true tale of bravery, kindness and support.

Breaking the Castle production photo

"A powerful and poignant Production


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