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The Changeling | Southwark Playhouse Borough

{PR Invite} Written by Julie | Photography by Charles Flint

In The Changeling, the Lazarus Theatre Company bring an intoxicating mix of lust, passion and murder to the Southwark Playhouse Borough stage, but sadly sometimes stumble in the execution.

Written in the 1600s by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, the Jacobean language of The Changeling proves the first stumbling block in the performance. While its beauty at times shines through, it all too often simply adds a layer of complexity to an already heavily-twisted plot.

Beatrice Joanna (Colette O’Rourke) has fallen in love with Alsemero (Mylo McDonald) but must first rid herself of her fiancé Alonzo De Piracquo (Alex Bird). In doing so, she chooses the most literal path, by enlisting her mother’s servant De Flores (Jamie O’Neill) to murder him. This unsurprisingly causes more problems than it solves, particularly as De Flores is obsessed with Beatrice Joanna and believes that his actions will win her love. And so the plot begins to spiral.

The version we are presented with is complex enough, but adaptor and director Ricky Dukes has actually removed much of a subplot from the original work which is set in an asylum. Instead, the ‘Patients’ band of Mikko Juan, Kiera Murray and Hamish Somers provide levity in crucial moments, taking lines spoken by the characters and twisting them into rousing (and often mocking) numbers, written by Bobby Locke.

These musical interludes all drew great reactions from the audience, particularly in the second half when Mikko Juan encourages the audience to sing along with his refrain and to bat giant pink balloons around the space in a particularly farcical moment. This is something the show could have made more of, and this is to be a recurring theme, the flashes of brilliance that need to be developed further in order to make this show truly shine.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the set design. Sorcha Corcoran’s elegant boardroom set brings to mind a much more modern period than the play’s traditional seventeenth-century setting. The piece would benefit from further adaptation to lean more into this transplantation. As it is, it feels rather caught between two worlds, confused as to where it would like to belong.

Colette O’Rourke steals the show as Beatrice Joanna, particularly in the moments in which her disgust and disdain towards the men who torment her is palpable. Jamie O’Neill is an excellent lurking De Flores, ratcheting up the creep factor throughout, and Mylo McDonald comes into his own in the second act, where he showcases Alsemero’s passion and betrayal movingly.Standouts elsewhere in the cast include Henrietta Rhodes as the bold but unfortunate servant girl Diaphanta and Emma Wilkinson Wright as Beatrice Joanna’s domineering mother Vermandera.

The entire cast is present on stage throughout the first act, with clever use of lighting from designer Stuart Glover to guide the eye around the stage. This lends the piece a somewhat claustrophobic feel, while also allowing the audience to witness some reactions to which they might not otherwise be privy. The loss of most of the company for large parts of the second act, and the increased movement, adds to the confused, frenetic feel.

Unfortunately though, the confusion in The Changeling is not always to its merit, as it can lack direction and coherence as an overall piece. This is an ambitious adaptation which needs to lean further into its strengths to reach true greatness.

The Changeling runs at Southwark Playhouse Borough until 28 October. For more information and tickets, see here.

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