The Changeling, Middleton’s complex tragedy of forbidden love, murder, and madness, opened last night on the suitably gloomy OFS stage. The drama revolves around the story of Beatrice who, desperately in love with another man, plots the death of her unwanted betrothed, succumbing as she does so to the obsessive desire of her hated hired assassin, De Flores. The dramatic events of the play are a gold mine to any director and Max Hoehn’s production was a good if not brilliant offering.
Of the two storylines, the madhouse subplot was the more successful with its sheer vigour, exuberance and grotesquery. The first transition between the two settings was impressive and unsettling with the inmates leaping onto the stage and demolishing the previous set and this energy was sustained throughout. Leo-Marcus Wan and David Ralf were both excellent and very funny as the doctors of the insane asylum, intelligently bringing out the humour in their lines whilst Isabel Drury’s Isabella was refreshingly sharp and down to earth.
The scenes in the castle sometimes lacked the pace of the madhouse scenes and felt a little ponderous. Whilst the actors were clearly trying very hard, they sometimes struggled with the awkward asides and the action felt at times a little stilted and slow. However, despite this, individual performances showed much promise. Alfred Enoch put in a strong performance as Alonzo, particularly in the second half and Eva Lily Tausig was commendable as the female lead, although more so at moments of pathos when she very successfully conveyed her character’s vulnerability and resignation than at times of anger which more often came across as petulance. It was just unfortunate that there was no chemistry between the pair which made their sudden and violent falling in love at first sight, the impetus for the tragic events of the play, a little hard to swallow. Etiene Ekpo-Utip was very watchable as the unfortunate De Flores and has undoubted stage presence, but I would have wished for more variation in his performance which sometimes runs the risk of becoming a little flat.
A special mention must also go to Anya Aleksandrova, the first time set designer, for her sophisticated set which perfectly complimented the aristocratic grandeur, claustrophobia and gloom of the castle. Visually, the skeletal masquerade by candlelight was particularly effective and spine chilling. The lighting designer, on the other hand, took the need for gloom a little too literally as the actors were often plunged into complete shadow, unable to be seen, whilst the lights illuminated some unused part of the stage or even phased out during speeches. This was the first night, however, and hopefully such technical issues will be ironed out for the rest of the run.
Overall, this production has much potential and as the run progresses I hope the cast and crew will continue to build upon its already solid foundations. It contained much that deserves praise, not least of which was its ensemble cast who for the most part all delivered good performances, and its strong aesthetic appeal. It is undoubtedly a very difficult play to stage and perform but this team has done well in its attempt to tame this savage classic.