Sydney Morning Herald
Peter Cook is a brave actor and a braver writer. In essence, his one-man play is about his pathway to being in that play; one strewn with the road-spikes and riddled with the potholes of addiction. The main character, Dave, is an actor whose career was derailed by the need to find a way to cope.
It’s confronting stuff. Whether you’ve been addictive yourself, or have known someone who is, you’ll recognise the cold horrors. A crucial point being made is that the crime is not addiction: the crime is addiction being made a crime. As Dave says near the end, addicts are not intrinsically bad people for seeking solace in escape. In a more openly didactic moment, he states, “You don’t need to punish addicts. The hell of addiction is a punishment in itself.”
Cook’s non-linear play jumps from binging on ice, coke and booze to being in rehab in Thailand; from auditioning for roles (including failing to land the part of a cockroach in a Mortein ad) to trying to evade imagined hitmen under a drug-induced, sleep-deprived psychosis. It contains a massively demanding role for Cook: 90 minutes of multiple characters, big speeches and some intensely physical acting.
The script leaves much to the director, and Caroline Stacey (artistic director of Canberra’s The Street company) excels in solving the problems of constant transitions of time and space with clarity and fluidity, and in marshalling Cook’s energies as a performer. All other elements of the production contribute to the success, too. Imogen Keen’s set is a giant, distorted rhomboid that could represent an ice crystal, the granite hardness of the world, or an iceberg adrift on an ocean of possibilities. Gerry Corcoran’s lighting has some “wow!” moments more usual in rock concerts than plays, yet which are entirely apt, as when, during another audition that Dave fails miserably, he is blasted by two intersecting beams of light, like being caught in the crosshairs of a rifle. Kimmo Vennonen’s sound design, meanwhile, helps make the one-man show so three-dimensional.
In some ways the four-star rating is slightly generous, as there are still some lumps in the writing and some holes in the performance, but brave theatre with minor flaws beats safe mediocrity any day.
City Hub Sydney
There are no dazzling sets or colourful costumes in Breaking The Castle. No orchestrated music, large ensemble cast nor a Broadway spectacular high budget price tag. However, this one-man production may be the most significant theatre production that audiences are ever likely to experience.
This is the brutally honest account of one man’s dependence and abuse of illicit drugs and alcohol. David is in his 30s and will try anything unorthodox to escape reality. Death doesn’t scare him – in his mind it could very well be the better alternative than fighting his inner demons every waking moment.
But what leads a good-looking young man to such low depths? Is living life to the fullest not the only option? Hope for new beginnings and redemption are at hand but can he rediscover himself when offered a chance at redemption in a rehabilitation clinic in South-East Asia?
All the events that may have led to this man’s downfall from childhood onwards are explored. A death in the family, a loveless upbringing and child abuse – could these and other issues be the reason why he cannot connect to life? Is he simply a starry eyed out of work actor misunderstood and blamed by society for his own misfortunes and torturous downward slide?
This incredibly riveting and affective theatre serves as a cautionary tale. It takes a long hard look at this man in question and inspires hope and the possibility of a long-term recovery.
Gritty, heartfelt, and funny at times, Breaking The Castle is written by Peter Cook who also delivers a hauntingly realistic performance as David. The comedic elements are mandatory and a welcomed relief from the morbid themes and the explosion of emotions that intermittently erupt on stage.
This is an excellent theatre going experience for all mature audiences and should be seen by older impressionable school children who could be at risk of experimenting with illicit substances.
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 …
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.
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.