Interview: Peter Cook on Breaking the Castle, “It’s my life on stage”

After a critically acclaimed Fringe run, Breaking the Castle is heading to London with its moving true story of addiction, brought to life in a hilarious, uplifting and poignant one-man show. This will run as part of the Pleasance’s Best of Edinburgh season in London, which brings together some of the best and brightest productions from the festival, and for four nights at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Breaking The Castle is brought to the stage by producer, creator and performer Peter Cook, lighting designer Ben Hughes, sound designer Kimmo Vennonen and director Bridget Boyle.

Writer and performer Cook draws from his own life experiences in this tour-de-force performance of a struggling actor battling debilitating mental health and descending into a world of addiction – illuminating the broader struggles of those who live on the edges, and the inequalities in the addiction and recovery cycle.

Breaking The Castle is a work of compassion, drawing on Cook’s lived experiences, creating a gripping tale of undeniable authenticity. This visceral, funny and inspiring production cuts across class, gender and race, getting to the heart of human complexity in a story that people across the world can relate to, no matter their background. Ahead of the London shows we caught up with Cook.

Q&A with Peter Cook.

What can you tell us about Breaking the Castle?

To me Breaking the Castle is an uplifting story about overcoming our deepest fears and facing our demons. It’s a story about Dave, a jobbing actor who is dealing with declining mental health and substance abuse issues, who slides to rock bottom. He is then given a choice, to find a way to heal or to face a life stuck in a vicious circle he can’t escape from. It’s a story about a human being trying to find his place in the world.

What was the inspiration for the play?

Seeing the inequality in the addiction / recovery cycle and the universal traumas that lead to addiction. I wanted people to understand what it’s like and not be so quick to judge.

How challenging is it to perform a play that is rooted in your own lived experiences?

Initially, it was very difficult. It’s my life on stage and the first season I was only 2 years out of rehab. However as time went on I realized my job was to tell the story, and ultimately though it’s based on my life, I realized I am an actor telling a story.

What was it like to take Breaking the Castle to Edinburgh Fringe this year and now to be performing as part of the Pleasance’s Best of Edinburgh season?

The Fringe was a massive experience. It was amazing that the show connected to audiences from all over the world and that we had such a great response. Although it was a tough grind – I am so happy I did it as it I learned so much about how the work resonates with audiences. Performing at the Pleasance as Best of Edinburgh is an honour and I can’t wait to do it. It’s a dream come true!

What do you hope audiences will take away from the play? 

Compassion for those who live on the fringes. I want them to laugh and cry and be entertained but to challenge how they see the world and reflect on their own lives. I want them to be challenged and leave the theatre feeling uplifted.

Breaking the Castle is at the Pleasance as part of Best of Edinburgh Season from 17-18 October and then at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 7-11 November.