Castle Lennox

Apr 1 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Huge humanity

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Thu 29 Mar – Sat 1 Apr 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Originally intended to be staged at the Lyceum in 2020, Castle Lennox, playwright Linda McLean’s collaboration with Lung Ha Theatre Company proves to be well worth the wait.

The play draws on the shocking history of the real Lennox Castle home for people with learning disabilities, whose overcrowded and often brutal regime was more akin to a prison than a hospital from the 1930s to the 1990s.

Emma McCaffrey and the Castle Lennox cast. Pic Peter Dibdin

Autistic teenager Annis is taken to the Castle by her stepmother, ostensibly for a ‘holiday’, but Annis soon becomes dehumanised, even to the extent of being denied her real name and being addressed as ‘Agnes’ because that is what the paperwork says.

The treatment and institutionalisation of Annis is wonderfully portrayed by Emma McCaffrey, and backed up by an excellent ensemble of Lung Ha performers. Gavin Yule, as Annis’s potential love interest William, Emma Clark and Nicola Tuxworth are particularly noteworthy, but there are performances of sensitivity and truth throughout the cast.

open-hearted communication

McLean’s script and lyrics are full of open-hearted communication, delineating friendship and compassion as well as the cruelty. Michael John McCarthy’s music is similarly direct and uncluttered, with a catchy, folky tunefulness.

Emma McCaffrey and Gavin Yule. Pic Peter Dibdin

The forces of the medical establishment are chillingly evoked; Kevin Lennon’s Doctor has a well-rehearsed manner but frightening political views, while Kirsty Eila McIntyre’s idealistic nurse is no match for the entrenched views of tradition. Fletcher Mathers provides a beautifully judged series of antagonists, all-too-recognisable in their belligerence and only slightly exaggerated.

The combination of comedy and tragedy in Mathers’s performances is reflected in the whole play, which is frequently funny as well as utterly heartbreaking.

truthful and resonant

There could be criticisms levelled at the way that sentiment and politics are laid on with the broadest of brushes, and how the final 15 minutes is not as well integrated into the rest of the narrative as it might be.

However, the overall effect is a truthful and resonant one, not only from the words and music, but also from Maria Oller’s expressive and eloquent direction, making the production flow in an unhurried, almost hypnotic manner – something greatly aided by Janice Parker’s movement direction.

The Castle Lennox cast. Pic Peter Dibdin

Karen Tennent’s design, whether fairy-tale forest or institutional dormitory, is striking and functional, with just the right degree of complexity. Simon Wilkinson’s lighting similarly has a mathematical precision that still remains warmly humane.

The immense care taken here is symbolised by the way that Rachel Amey’s BSL interpretation is an integral part of the storyline. The result is a labour of love, multi-faceted in its evocation of humanity that encompasses hope as well as desperation.

Running time: One hour and 25 minutes (no interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay St, EH9 3AX
Thursday 30 March – Saturday 1 April 2023
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

The Castle Lennox cast. Pic Peter Dibdin


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