The Changeling, Young Vic, London
Friday 03 February 2012
All the world is a madhouse at the Young Vic lately.
First there was the compelling and controversial Michael Sheen/Ian Rickson Hamlet set in a psychatric secure unit (and possibly locked, too, in the hero's grief-stricken mind). Now we are back with asylums for Joe Hill-Gibbins's bold, blackly antic account of The Changeling, the great 1622 tragedy of lust and lunacy and their consequences by Middleton and Rowley. Its double plotting invites us to see the central story of murder and emotional blackmail amongst the toffs as rebuked in the distorted mirror of the subplot in which a virtuous wife, incarcerated in a madhouse by her jealous husband, resists the violent overtures of a suitor who has feigned insanity to be near her.
Staged in the studio space of the Maria, the modern-dress production seats the audience on all four sides of the action in either boxed-off galleries at ground level or looking down from the high balcony. The excellent design is by Ultz. The implication is that we are like prurient visitors to Bedlam. A handful of lucky folk get to sit in wheelchairs on the stage after fervent reassurances that this is not going to metamorphose, for them, into a whizzing You Me Bum Bum Train-style personal odyssey. Hill-Gibbins hurls the two plots across each other's paths in brilliantly telling ways and without any change of scenery. In the asylum, there are disconcertingly rattling boxes, cupboards, and trunks that seem to be crammed with desperate, protesting inmates; the people who emerge are highborn characters, waiting to take to stage and in a equivalent emotional turbulence.
The crucial duo are the spoilt heiress Beatrice-Joanna (the slight, rivettingly pettish and spiky Jessica Raine) and Daniel Cerqueira as De Flores, the disfigured servant who revolts and fascinates her and who demands her virginity in return for having bumped off her unwanted fiance. The latter is often played as perversely phwoar-factor, despite (or because of) his facial blotches. But Cerqueira plays, arrestingly, as a sort of prissy first cousin of Malvolio with tail coat and eruptions of eczema. Banked-down, he's nonetheless borderline hysterical with grievance. He deflowers Beatrice in her bridal gown on the table laid for the post-nuptial dinner. Hill-Gibbins superbly ratchets up the tension by emphasising the post-wedding festivites and disco. A lot of jelly gets thrown at the end, but this is no trifle.
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