Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Peter Cook: Breaking The Castle 

By | Published on Friday 13 October 2023

Coming to London’s Pleasance Theatre this week is a show that won a lot of acclaim when it was on at the Edinburgh Fringe in the summer, not least from our own reviewer who gave it 5/5, called it a “remarkable play”, and described its creator’s performance as captivating. 

That creator and performer is Peter Cook, and the play – ‘Breaking The Castle’ – is inspired by his own experiences of addiction and recovery.

It won’t come as a surprise to find out that I was keen to connect with him, to find out more about the play and the talent behind it. I spoke to him ahead of his London dates. 

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Breaking The Castle’ is all about? What story does it tell?
PC: This is always a hard question to answer, as the play covers a lot! ‘Breaking The Castle’ is really just a story about a human being doing his best to find a place for himself in the world.

It tells the story of Dave, an out of work actor who is doing his best to survive whilst battling his deteriorating mental health and various addictions. After finding himself at rock bottom he has to find the courage to face himself and go on a journey of healing.

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
PC: Fundamentally the play explores the correlation between mental health, addiction and trauma. However it’s about so much more.

It’s about the importance of finding connection to the people and the world around us and finding meaning and purpose in the world. Vulnerability is also a big theme in the play. Dave must find a way to be completely vulnerable, to break the castle he has built around himself and heal.

The play explores how our childhood affects us adults and how we as human beings can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.

CM: To what extent is it based on your own experiences?
PC: The play is semi-autobiographical and I have never shied away from owning this, as I believe it’s an important piece of truth telling that touches the hearts of audience members.

Obviously the name of the main character is different and there is dramatic licence used throughout, however it is my story.

CM: What was the inspiration for this? What made you want to make a show about this and what made you think it would work?
PC: The inspiration for this play was the time I spent in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. It made me understand that addiction affects people from all cultural backgrounds, social classes and ages.

The people I was using with on the streets were no different to the people I met in rehab, just some had access to money and the others didn’t. To me this highlighted the inequalities in the addiction-recovery cycle and that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

I knew the play would work after the first read at initial creative development, where you could have heard a pin drop, which was surprising but pleasing.

CM: When you created the show, did you always plan to perform it? How does being the creator of the piece affect your performance and how things work with your director?
PC: Yes, I always planned to perform it, as I’d wanted to write and perform in a one-man show since I left drama school. Also the story is very personal, so handing it off in such an early stage of its life was not on the cards.

Being the creator is very freeing in terms of performance as I know the intention behind the text and each scene, and I don’t feel restricted in my choices.

I actually feel for the directors I have worked with as I am very vocal on the floor about what I feel, however what is beautiful about the rehearsal process is that the director always comes up with things I hadn’t imagined, which makes me feel the work is malleable, as all good theatre should be.

CM: You took the show to the Fringe: How did that go? Was it the first time you’ve been? Would you go back?
PC: The Fringe was really hard work. I saw it referred to as The Hunger Games Of Theatre and I’d have to agree. Having said that, it was a huge experience and performing the show 21 times in 24 days gave me great confidence in myself.

The Fringe also proved that the material connects with international audiences, and of all ages and backgrounds, which was heartening. All of the humour translated which was really important. It was the first time I’d been, and yes I would go back, as it’s a great challenge.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? How did you come to be working in the arts? What drew you to a creative career and how did you start out?
PC: I was living in my hometown in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia and kind of just doing what was expected of me after school – getting a degree at uni, playing rugby and getting ready to marry the girl next door – figuratively speaking.

But I always had this voice in the back of my head urging me to be an actor. I had done some drama at school but nothing serious. One day I just made a decision I was going to listen to this voice and auditioned for drama school and got into the Victorian College Of Arts.

The rest is really history, but it was drama school that really imbued me with a love of theatre.

CM: What have been the highlights of your working life so far?
PC: I would have to say performing ‘Breaking The Castle’ in my hometown of Brisbane after performing it in other parts of Australia. It was a real homecoming and I had such a great time each night with a hometown audience.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
PC: I would like to keep writing material with a focus on social change in the media of film, TV and theatre, and work as an actor across these media around the world.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
PC: Well, after the Pleasance season I have the Old Red Lion dates, then hopefully another theatre in London and a US tour in 2024. I feel like the ‘Breaking The Castle’ journey still has a way to go. I’m hoping to write the TV show and movie.

‘Breaking The Castle’ is on at the Pleasance Theatre from 17-18 Oct, see the venue website here for information and to book tickets. It will do a further run at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 7-11 Nov, see this page here for that. 

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