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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE CHANGELING
at the Young Vic

HOUSE OF LUNATICS
By SAM MARLOWE

  Jessica Raine/ Ph: Keith Pattison

Bold ideas are often thrilling, even revelatory, in the theatre, but they need full-blooded execution. This production of Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s revenge tragedy, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, is distinctly pallid. Performed in modern dress and designed by Ultz, this is a bear-pit staging with the audience in three tiers seated in a rectangle around the action; the sightlines are appalling. It doesn’t help that, in order to reinforce the asylum setting of some of the scenes and the repeated contention that half the inmates are mad, the other half fools, 50 percent of the spectators are forced to watch the performance through netting – presumably intended to signify that they are under restraint in case of psychotic outburst. No doubt the intention is to draw us in; in practice, the device is merely irritating.
 
What’s on stage is equally unlovely. No courtly ceremony or palatial splendour here. Instead, Catholicism, though it never comes across as a sufficiently strong influence, is suggested by a couple of candles and a portrait of the Virgin Mary, amid random industrial pallets, plywood cupboards and boxes, and steel mesh. That none of this feels Spanish needn’t be greatly problematic; the play’s setting is, anyway, a notional Spain dreamt up by English writers viewing the country only as a viper’s nest of papery and corruption.
 
But the lack of focus does create a difficulty. At the castle of Vermandero, the governor of Alicante, preparations are underway for the marriage of his daughter Beatrice-Joanna to a man she doesn’t love. Meanwhile, at a madhouse, a young wife conducts an affair with a lover disguised as a lunatic under the nose of her husband, the proprietor. With its cabinets stuffed with screeching inmates and closets concealing frantic lovers and murderous plotters, HIll-Gibbins’ production makes the point that the chambers of the lofty are as full of lust and madness as any Bedlam. But there is little sense of the status of Vermandero, and such an absence of any sort of parameter to the mayhem that nothing very much ever seems to be at stake.
 
Jessica Raine plays Beatrice-Joanna, bartered in matrimony by her father and lustfully desired by both her prospective husband Alonzo and by the “dog-face” servant De Flores (Daniel Cerqueira). Despite her disgust, she realises De Flores’ infatuation can be put to use, and persuades him to bump off her intended. This he does by drowning him in a handy bowl of wedding punch, leaving Beatrice-Joanna free to wed her beloved, Alsemero. The nuptials are chaotic, with happy couple and guests gyrating to Beyonce’s "All the Single Ladies" before Beatrice-Joanna breaks off for a bout of frenzied copulation with De Flores on the banquet table, having been forced – at first reluctantly, then when a kind of queasy excitement – to pay him off for his help by yielding to his lust. The anarchy that follows as skeletons tumble from their closets is an orgy of smeared and flung wedding food, most of it strawberry jelly. Maybe Hill-Gibbins thought it looked like gore; actually, it just looks faintly silly.
 
But what’s most disappointing is the way in which the production bleeds all the vitality, all the lurid excitement as well as the dramatic power, out of the play. Sex and violence have rarely been so unexciting.

 


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