Thomas Middleton and William Rowley
This Changeling has most definitely been changed. In this new production, director Michael Oakney decides the best way to tackle the tricky dual plots is two cut one, leaving in its wake a leaner, tauter one-act play that is certainly more efficient if not entirely successful.
In this version the story is simple: Beatrice-Joanna (Fiona Hampton) is a woman in great demand; she is betrothed to Alonzo de Piracquo (James Northcote), loved by De Flores (David Caves) but in love with Alsemero (Rob Heaps). When Beatrice-Joanna enlists the help of one of her three suitors to dispose of another she sets in motion a sequence of events that leave the audience to watch as all around her crumbles.
It is certainly a bold decision to remove the subplot in its entirety, and on one level it pays off. The play is more focused on the intricate sexual politics and maneuverings of the key players without having to switch tone-sharply from comic to tragic. But having made one big decision, Oakneys other whilst not undermining it completely certainly goes a long way to reducing this new stagings potency.
Oakney decides to deprive the characters of the high volume of asides they would usually deliver to the audience and instead creates them through a series of pre-recorded sound bites. Occasionally this works, with the thought cutting through the action of the scene with neither actor nor the characters missing a beat. But all too often removing the line leaves the actors on stage filling a gap that no longer seems to have the same dramatic intention. These asides are not just to inform the viewer as to someones inner thoughts, but should also bring the audience into the action, making them in some way complicit in the drama. With the series of voice-overs, however, this production instead creates a curious level of detachment and isolation that leaves the viewer feeling unengaged.
The performance of David Caves as the delusional De Flores, a man blinded by his own love and obsession for Beatrice-Joanna, is fascinating. He lives by a moral code that is a million miles away from the other characters, but is so convincing in his love that it is impossible not to sypathise with him.
This production of The Changeling shoots itself in the foot having made one big decision that pays off, the second intervention fails, which leaves a feeling not just of something that is unsuccessful, but also of an opportunity missed.
"The Changeling" plays at The Southwark Playhouse until 26th November 2011
Reviewer: Alisdair Hinton