“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 remain.
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.