“Let me feel how thy pulses beat”
Joe Hill-Gibbins' raucous production of The Changeling first played the
intimate Maria studio at the Young Vic earlier this year and encouraged by its
success there, it has now transferred into the main theatre to provide a Gothic
pre-Christmas treat. Middleton and Rowley's Jacobean tragedy which spirals
around spoilt rich girl Beatrice-Joanna's schemes with her malevolent lackey De
Flores has been mostly recast, just two people return, but its intense
atmosphere, playful spirit and copious quantities of jelly, jam and trifle
Sinéad Matthews takes on the role of wilful Beatrice-Joanna, determined to
replace the man to which she finds herself engaged with the ones she has the
hots for, and willing to do anything to get Zubin Varla's disfigured De Flores
to carry out her dastardly wishes. It's a fascinating casting choice, the
melancholy musicality of Matthews' voice initially seems a difficult fit but
the contrast of her doll-like frame against the wiry masculinity of Varla
becomes highly effective as she attempts to manipulate all around her, forced
to use her intelligence and wiles to ensure that Harry Hadden-Paton's appealing
Alsemero ends up with her.
Alongside the cast changes, the show has also grown in its absence. It now runs
at a shade over 2 hours, perhaps a little indulgently as there's no interval
and this is 20 minutes longer than its previous incarnation. Some scenes
benefit from the increased room to breathe especially in the greater
exploration of the twisted dynamics of so many of these relationships, but
others meander a little. This production plays up the asylum subplot where a
woman is imprisoned by her lover and besieged by suitors, making the parallels
of what madness love drives people to are readily apparent but ultimately overplayed:
the real joy comes from the deft doubling that goes on, Alex Beckett and
Eleanor Matsuura both impressing.
Ultz's inimitable yet sometimes challenging design has been transposed into the
larger space and brings with it its delights and downfalls. Depending on where
you end up (unreserved seating has been brought back, my recommendation is to
aim for the bank of red seats), one can either be up close to the action in
confessional pews or even wheelchairs, a spectator separated by
ice-hockey-style netting, or stranded up high with questionable lines of sight.
It certainly adds to the anarchic feel of the production but that the same
audience's experience can be so variable depending on the seat feels flawed.
But there's plenty to enjoy here: a punchily modern soundtrack provides humour
and an iconic moment mid-show; the wedding buffet of jelly and trifle is used
in imaginative ways; and the modernisation of the play never feels gratuitous.
Just make sure you arrive in good time to pick the right seat.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 15th December
Labels: Alex Beckett, Alex Lowe, Eleanor Matsuura, Harry Hadden-Paton, Howard Ward, Middleton, Nick Lee, Rowley, Sinéad Matthews, Young Vic, Zubin Varla