Review: The Changeling, Southwark Playhouse

Lazarus Theatre work their stylishly unique approach on Jacobean tragedy The Changeling at Southwark Playhouse

“What may be your poison, sir?”

Lazarus Theatre have made a habit of redefining the classical canon with their productions and this new version of Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The Changeling is no different. Liberally but intelligently adapted by Ricky Dukes who also directs, whole subplots are streamlined into the main narrative, a Succession-esque boardroom aesthetic prevails and splash zones established in case there was any doubt how bloody things are going to get.

Beatrice Joanna is having issues with the men in her life. Engaged to family favourite Alonzo, in love with secret alchemist Alsemero and dodging the obsessed attentions of her mother’s servant De Flores, she engages in a spider’s web of manipulation. She encourages De Flores to murder Alonzo by pointing out that it will free her up for another man but once De Flores realises she means Alsemero rather than him, that web becomes even more tangled.

Sorcha Corcoran’s design does a strong job at converting Southwark Playhouse’s Little into a cauldron of Jacobean tragedy – its central conceit of a dominating boardroom table a powerful setting for the interactions of the first act with its many conspiratorial asides, then more a platform for the later shifting locations effectively suggested by Stuart Glover’s lighting. And because I am indeed that shallow, all credit to Alice Neale’s costume design and her love of a tight-fitting white vest.

Colette O’Rourke makes an intriguing case for Beatrice Joanna as antihero, utterly amoral in her pursuit of what she wants and pragmatic about what she needs to do in order to achieve at every obstacle. Jamie O’Neill’s facially scarred De Flores equally layers his characterisation beyond that of simple villain, a real sense of the depth of their twisted relationship becoming apparent as the play progresses. Henrietta Rhodes as poor maid Diaphanta also impresses.

The choice to largely excise the asylum subplot (a choice also made the last time I saw The Changeling at the Southwark Playhouse back in 2011!) works, though having remnants stick around such as the Patients – a house band slash Greek chorus – to sing songs (by Bobby Locke) might arguably baffle as much as burnish the experience if unfamiliar with the play. Still, these interventions help to balance the intensity of the production and heighten its impact.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Charles Flint
The Changeling is booking at Southwark Playhouse until 28th October

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