If you want to experience suffering for art spend a couple of hours on a wooden bench as the Young Vic allows another director to butcher a great classical play. After Ian Rickson's atrocious Hamlet Joe Hill-Gibbins has attempted to cram Thomas Middleton's The Changeling into less than two hours. Savage cuts to the text have made it partially incomprehensible but he has chosen to retain the barely connected sub-plot, apparently by William Rowley but almost identical to Madness in Valencia, which gives Middleton's far better play even less room to breathe. So, when Beatrice-Joanna enlists the scurvied De Flores to bump off her intended bridegroom her true love simply pops up at the wedding in his place. And, although De Flores violently relieves her of her chastity she seems inexplicably willing to subject herself to him whilst substituting her maid on her wedding night to convince her husband that her virginity is still intacta. Confused? - you will be as they used to say on Soap. Add some risible nonsense with jelly and trifle representing sexual passion and suicide (really!) plus a wedding feast mimed to Beyonce (really!!!) and you have a directorial conceit spiralling out of control. It's also unforgiveable that much of the play is obscured by props or ill-conceived blocking; the finale was invisible behind a large table. Jessica Raine (who seems to have become very thin) is impressive as the tragic anti-heroine but some of the supporting cast are far less assured; the usually excellent Henry LLoyd-Hughes doesn't seem to have a clue what his two characters are meant to be contributing to the piece. The Young Vic seems to be trying to base itself on the European model as a director's theatre (remember I Am the Wind - far, far worse), but they really need to tell them to check their egos at the door. - David Baxter
09 Feb 12
‘The Changeling’, playing at The Young Vic, is an excellent production of Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s tradgi-comedy, a play which, with its continuously fast-paced movement and numerous asides, is notoriously difficult to pull off. Director Joe Hill-Gibbons, who has to his credit two of last year’s most talked about productions, Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ (also at The Young Vic) and Penelope Skinner’s George Devine award winning play, ‘The Village Bike’ (at The Royal Court) brings moments of ecstatic joy to this dark Jacobean play of desire, murder and deceit. Two of the most stylistic aspects of this play are that characters walk in and out of boxes, cupboards and cages with as great an equanimity as if they walked through doors, and that they play with and are abused by food. Though some of the strongest emotional points in the play are played in near darkness, if this production wants for anything it is a greater intensity of darkness. The comedy is greatly believable, the tragedy slightly less so.
Middleton and Rowley’s ‘The Changeling’ was licensed in 1622, only six years after Shakespeare’s death. The opening and closing of the play is attributed to Rowley and the greater share of the play, particularly the intense scenes between Beatrice-Joanna and De Flores, to Middleton. The main source of the play is from a collection of short stories by John Reynolds but we find here narrative threads which, erroneously, we think of as particularly Shakespearian, so that we have a man suspicious of his wife’s impurity, a woman impelling a man to kill, the re-emergence of dead man as a ghost. De Flores though, even as he hints back to Malvolio, is a new character, and the women are strong without necessarily being upright or expressing any great pangs of remorse. This is already a changing world from the one we associate with Shakespeare; its values are more negative and cries for redemption, when made, seem half-hearted.
The story is, as with many Jacobean plays, an intricate one. Joanna-Beatrice is betrothed to Alonzo and wants to marry Alsemero. In order to rid herself of Alonzo she engages her father’s servant, De Flores, to kill him. When the crime is committed she seeks to pay De Flores, whom she despises as an ugly wretch, but the only payment he will accept is her in bed. The sub-plot mirrors this theme of great desire as Antonio, disguised as a madman, enters the hospital/home of Alibus in order to woo Alibus’ wife, Isabella, whom he loves.
Paul Arditti’s sound design is superb and provides a rich canvass which surprises and yet ultimately, compliments the richness of the text. The dance sequence, enacted with all the pastiche of the Rocky Horror Show, mimics us through the wedding scene and had audiences in laughter, as did the jelly scene (you’ll just have to go to find out what this means), though the two kinds of laughter were distinct. Dance is appearing quite a lot on the stage at the moment. Here, it works.
Amongst the company of actors, Daniel Cerqueira’s De Flores and Jessica Raine’s Diaphanta/Isabella are particularly notable. The company, however, is a fine one and this review refers to a preview show.
- Nachi Butt
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