Having recently finished her year abroad on a directing course at the St Petersburg State Theatre Academy, Charlotte Day has returned bursting with directorial ideas. She tells me that all through her course in Russia, she was looking forward to getting her teeth into a Jacobean masterpiece once she had returned to Oxford. As a result, The Changeling, which is on in the Burton Taylor in 7th week is set to be a production unlike many others. The play itself is a tragedy written in the 17th century by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. It centres around the theme of human sin, and has two parallel plotlines: one following doomed love and lust, and the other in an asylum.
The production opens in almost complete black; someone sweeps the floor in a slow, ominous fashion, and a single light shines from a table at the back. Ambient sounds fill the space but there is no dialogue. The sinister scene is set for a play of darkness and deception.
Day tells me that she has tested different non-textual approaches with her actors, including playing with repetitive codes of movement which attempt to entrench physical gestures more deeply into the actor’s psyche. It is fascinating stuff, and exciting to see someone who has trained away from the Oxford theatre bubble come back and explore what she has learnt.
The play also involves some audience participation and there is consistent a breaking of the fourth wall in the delivery of the asides, which occur so often in Jacobean theatre and present a conundrum for modern realistic productions. It will certainly be a unique experience for an audience member as it becomes clear what part the audience have in the world of the play, I can assure you.
Some of the actors, although still developing their performances, were particularly strong. Imogen Allen as Beatrice Joanna stood out as ‘one to watch’. She delivered her lines with accomplished fluency and the character decisions on which her performance was based seemed solid. However, others also gave promising performances. Physically, the portrayal of Deflores by Iarla Manny is impressive. The villainous capabilities of the character were hinted at in his stage presence, even though his scenes were yet to come. As an ensemble, the cast clearly work well together, both on and off stage. There was a strong sense of teamwork. This is of course of paramount importance in comedy particularly, and the comedy in the script did shine through, particularly in the scenes in the asylum.
All in all, this production is an intriguing premise, realised by a motivated and energetic group of people. It may well be worth giving 90 minutes of your 7th week to give it a watch!
Image// Natalie Harney