Lung Ha Theatre Company presents Linda McLean’s Castle Lennox, inspired by the true story of the Glasgow Corporation’s Lennox Castle Hospital, which from the 1930s to the 1990s was Scotland’s largest institution for those with learning disabilities.
In 1969, Annis (Emma McCaffrey) is a young girl with autism, whose stepmother takes her to this ‘fairy tale’ castle for a ‘holiday’. Annis, who is bright, funny and outspoken, loves fairy tales and but she soon learns that this new home of hers is definitely of the Grimm variety.
She might arrive on Cake Day (Saturday), but she’s also thrown into a dormitory under the cruel eye of a sadistic, coercive staff nurse, forced to do chores, and earn her privileges – primarily cigarettes. Enforced medication and the isolation batter Annis’ personality. By the time Care in the Community comes round decades later, Annis is institutionalised with a capital ‘I’ and the last thing she’s prepared for is to leave the castle.
But that’s when the power of friendship comes to the fore: the other residents have got Annis’ back, and with them behind her, that original spark of her personality is relit. A nice twist is that Annis and one of the young nurses discover that they were childhood friends. Back together, the underlying message is one of there but for the grace of god…it was circumstance, not need for ‘care’ that sent Annis away. The production ends with Annis willing and able to face the future outside.
Castle Lennox touches on some significant, troublesome, themes of historical social care and labelling of individuals. It doesn’t deconstruct or analyse them – in a seventy-five minute play-with-songs that’s meant to entertain, how could it? But it does make you think sufficiently to start the conversation, how did we allow people to be treated this way for so long?
The performances are outstanding: Emma McCaffrey as Annis is compelling, and the combining the role of her mother and on-stage BSL translator, is inspired in the hands of Rachel Amey. The Lung Ha ensemble – it’s just not fair to single any one actor out – are clearly having a fantastic time on stage, and their lively performance gives a real lift throughout. The songs are a cross between fairly forgettable and an ear worm (the chorus referring to it being a long road that never bends is still stuck in my head), but they, like Karent Tennant’s excellent set design, certainly frame Annis’ story.
It’s a sadly short run – three nights – but hopefully will merit a reprisal in the future.
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh until 1st April