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The Alchemist

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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This larger than life and laugh out loud reimaging of Jonson’s Jacobean satire of London life, where the lust for wealth and happiness is open and ripe for the pickings, is suitably served in this vigorous Victorian version by the newly formed Let Them Call It Mischief company.

Revisioning a classic always presents challenges as the audience has to come to terms with at least two worlds, that of today and that of the time in which the play was written, in this case the early17th Century. Here we’re asked to come to terms with, and contrast and compare, three worlds, as we’re presented with representations that are clearly Victorian, in this instance vaudevillian Music Hall.

In the small space that is the back room of the White Bear, Ele Slade’s intriguing, innovative and ingenious set design  provides the perfect background to a world of illusions where Ed Cartwright’s over the top and out of control Subtle is kept in check by the quick witted and manipulative Face.

Face is played with suitable airs of affectation and deference by the director Danny Wainwright, who has created a world where magic, mischief and mayhem hold sway over easily gulled gentry and an upwardly mobile middle class.

The panelled backdrop, with its secret doors and flaps is greater than the sum of its parts, a Pandora’s Box, allowing the illusion of a mansion to be contained in a matchbox, which provides not only panelled exits and entrances but amongst its gems a seating box and a delightful downsized door which is ceremoniously brought out for the entries and exits of the constant stream of seven visitors whose tales are interweaved.

The cast work well as a team with clearly defined characters, notably James McGregor’s sceptical Surly and his brilliantly contrived alter ego the Spaniard, but it is Andrew Venning’s superb performance as the swaggering, sexually charged Sir Epicure Mammon that’s the treat of the evening along with Phil Featherstone’s innocent and naive Northern shop lad Abel Drugger.

The addition of mood music and dramatic lighting changes help make this an entertaining evening of exemplary, emotional evocations.

- Dave Jordan


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