The Changeling is a gruesome Jacobean tragedy oozing blood, lust and sin. It stars Beatrice Joanna, who longs to marry dashing nobleman, Alsemero, despite being already engaged to Piraqcuo. Desperate to marry the man of her choice, Beatrice decides to enlist Desflores (her father’s manservant, who is disturbingly obsessed with her) to murder Piraqcuo. But when things don’t go according to plan, she finds herself wrapped up in a twisted, sexual, master-slave relationship, in which it is not clear who is slave to their desires and who is master of them. Underscoring this dark tale are the madhouse scenes written by Rowley, depicting how even in a Bedlam house full of lunatics, less corruption and more sense can be found than in the outside world.
Charlotte Day’s production of The Changeling did a fantastic job of freaking out its audience with a harrowing rendition of the play. The performance involved the audience throughout: madmen chanted at us, asking us to pass the chants on; characters addressed us with questions as to what the hell was going on onstage; Isabella, having been attacked by a madman, clung onto an audience member’s leg in despair… The spontaneity of this production really made it exciting to watch.
Another wonderful touch was the make-up designed by Grace Kinsey: each of the actors had a skull emblazoned across their face. This emphasised that no matter how mad or sane, ugly or beautiful, rich or poor, each human being is essentially the same – a skeleton, death, or as Middleton himself would have believed, being a Calvinist, all intrinsically born with original sin.
And this is the frightening discovery Imogen Allen has to make as Beatrice (whom she plays with great depth and emotion) who gradually finds repulsive Desflores, repulsive sin, more and more appealing as the play progresses. The way Desflores is presented is incredibly interesting too, as instead of going for an interpretation like Ian Drury’s wanking, creepy stalker, Iarla Manny’s interpretation of the character is a more sympathetic one – he not only lusts after, but adores Beatrice – making the relationship between man and sin (which Desflores represents) even more difficult to pin-point.
As for the madhouse scenes, though in most productions they stick out as the weaker scenes that don’t really fit in with the rest of the play, they were done justice here, due to this production refusing the naturalistic style past performances have chosen to employ. Ryan Schiller and Guy Butler shine as madhouse keepers Alibius and Lollio, while Chloe Delanney proved her formidable dramatic range by providing an extremely strong link between the world of the clinically insane and the “sane” by playing both Isabella and Diaphanta. In fact, the double-casting of most of the characters, including those played by Isaac Calvin, Paul Purewal, and Ryan Schiller, proved very effective. Not only because it allowed the actors to show off their dramatic range, but also because it highlighted the sinister doubling in The Changeling, a play of “twins of mischief”, exploring our darker other-halves.
All in all, Day, together with her talented crew and cast has achieved wonders through this production. Not only has she revived a brilliant play that’s hardly ever put on, but she has done so really well, which, with a play this difficult to tackle, is a real feat.