Review: Gormenghast, Maskers Studio Theatre, Southampton, 24 April 2023

Review: Gormenghast, Maskers Studio Theatre, Southampton, 24 April 2023

By Martin Brisland

Firstly, for those who haven’t yet discovered the Maskers Theatre Company it is time you did!

Since 1994 it has had its own studio theatre seating around 40. Complete with a bar, this hidden gem can be found just off Shirley High Street.

Maskers were established in 1968 and have put on well over 300 productions since then. Their open air summer plays are a particular favourite. I have seen many of their shows because you know that, whatever the genre, they will provide an extremely high standard of amateur dramatics.

Their current production of Gormenghast is one of their best yet, in fact a triumph.

That is a major achievement as this is no easy story. Back in 2000 the BBC had an expensive 4 part television adaptation. It had 120 different sets, was developed over 5 years and it bombed. Praise then to Anna Hussey, on her directorial debut, who kept things uncluttered and simple yet highly effective.

In the world of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast book trilogy, the most central character is perhaps not a person at all, but the Gothic Gormenghast Castle, the vast ancient ancestral home of the Groans. Gormenghast Castle exerts dominance over its surroundings and its people. In this brooding world there is servitude to the building and its rituals where nothing changes and even saying the name Gormenghast conveys a sense of ghastly dread.

Author Mervyn Peake (1911- 1968) lived on Sark in the Channel Islands  twice, firstly in  1932, and then with his family in 1946. This coincided with the publication of both Titus Groan and Gormenghast. This remote island served as the inspiration for his works.

In a world bound by iron laws and rituals, two young men are struggling to make their way. Steerpike is the renegade kitchen-boy who seduces and murders his way up the social ladder. Titus Groan is the reluctant heir to Gormenghast who comes to threaten its very existence.

This play adaptation by John Constable has “pulled off the impossible” in successfully bringing Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast complex trilogy to the theatre. The Maskers have done the same with their production. There is quality throughout the cast and no weak link. Ben Jones as the scheming Steerpike was commanding. Sam Hussey as Mr Flay was believable. Adam Taussik as Swelter, the drunk cook, was convincing. Special mention to those behind the sound and lighting who were essential to the dramatic effect of the play.

Gormenghast runs all this week until 29th April. Bookings via

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