Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Theatre Review : The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Rowley - Young Vic (dir Joe Hill-Gibbins 6/2/12)

Charlotte Lucas and Jessica Raine 
There's something very modern about blood-soaked Jacobean tragedies that make them so very condusive to modern adaptations. Maybe its the moral ambiguity surrounding the heroes or the amorality of the villains that resonates so very well with our post-modern age.

In The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, Beatrice-Joanna (Jessica Raine)  is being forced into loveless marriage to Alonso (Duncan Wisbey), so she asks her lover Alsemero (Kobna Holbrook-Smith) to despatch her husband-to-be. He demurs, but scrofulus De Flores (Daniel Cerqueira)  has the hots for Beatrice and is willing to do anything for her. His price is her virtue which he duly takes, leaving Beatrice with a problem on her eventual wedding-night. Fortunately, she can fall back on that old renaissance stand-by beloved of Shakespeare, the bed trick, though unfortunately her maid Diaphanta (Charlotte Lucas) enjoys performing the trick a bit too well.

This is The Changeling supercharged - urgent, sexy and messy. The audience are right on top of the performers in the Young Vic's Jerwood space, and can feel the scratches of this tactile production. Beatrice is sassy, self-willed, vulnerable. You can see why she has so many men in her thrall. De Florio breathes heavily as he watches her, his lank hair dropping greasily over his scabby face. Beatrice can't hide her repulsion as she realises she must kiss him in order to get her way. Meanwhile in the subplot,  Henry Lloyd-Hughes as Antonio dons madman's guise to gain access to doctor Alibius's wife Isabella (Charlotte Lucas again), incarcerated in a madhouse under the lecherous eye of Alex Beckett as Lollio, rubbing his truncheon lubriciously.

Come the bed-trick on the wedding night, Alonso and Diaphanta smear each other with raspberry jelly (as one does), the resulting sheets giving notice of the truth of Beatrice's virginity. But as everything starts to unravel, this wonderful production finally starts to lose its grip as the jelly starts to fly courtesy of those wronged (which by now was the majority of the cast). It was the only bum note in the evening, as such a taut production required a  denouement which was earthier, more tangible, slightly less symbolic. Up until that point I had enjoyed this gripping production immensely, and some sniggers from the audience suggested that my doubts were not alone. But full marks to Director Joe Hill-Gibbins for a production that shocked, challenged but above all entertained right the way to the end.

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