THE CHANGELING
Monday, 30 November -0001

THE CHANGELING

This new production of the Jacobean tale of murder in the dark is unforgettably thrilling

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-portrait-176Tucked beside Shakespeare’s Globe, the thatched-roofed replica of the large 1599 playhouse, is a tiny jewel box of a theatre, made of beautifully turned timber, partly painted and decorated with gold leaf. It’s called the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse after the actress Zoë’s dad, the driving force behind the restoration of the Globe. This little treasure isn’t a reconstruction of a particular theatre but an archetype of the kind of indoor spaces better suited to Shakespeare’s late romances and Webster’s dark Jacobean tragedies.

For unlike the Globe, which relies on awful flat floodlighting which, as it says on the packet, floods the stage with light rather than directing the focus of the audience, productions here are lit by candelabras and handheld lanterns. It’s a world of a dramatic difference. Warm flickering shadows play over the golden decoration, the sparkling jewellery and the shot-silk costumes with their beads and embroidery.

And it’s the perfect setting for Dominic Dromgoole’s revival of Middleton and Rowley’s terrifying tale of murder in the dark, The Changeling, which begins in pitch-black darkness. All the better for a play in which what the eye can’t see, the conscience ignores. In such murky conditions, judging character from shadowy expressions is a matter of guesswork, and all the more so when so many are pretending to be something they are not. Hattie Morahan portrays the decidedly dodgy heroine, Beatrice-Joanna, as an impulsive, passionate woman, betrothed to one man but determined to get rid of him so that she can marry Alsemero, a dish she spotted in church. She dispatches her servant De Flores, whom she detests and routinely insults, calling him ‘standing toad-pool’ because of his blotchy birthmarks, to do the deed. And because he is madly in love (in those days dramatists equated madness with love and lust), he obediently trots off with his knife.

Little does she suspect that he will demand her virginity as his fee, which will lead to all sorts of complications, including Beatrice having to pass a bizarre virginity test: only the pure will gape, sneeze and giggle when given a spoonful of a particular potion. Trystan Gravelle is a sweetly singsong Welsh-accented De Flores, driven entirely by an almost dreamy desire for his mistress. ‘I’m up to my chin in heaven,’ he says when Beatrice-Joanna says anything at all to him, however vile. Dromgoole’s gloriously gory staging thrills but never chills; the wedding is a whirling dance, musicians mingle among the actors, with the driving rhythms of the music propelling their passions. He shows off this exquisite theatre to gorgeous effect, but casts too little psychological light on these complex characters. Blame those candles!

Until 1 March at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre: 020-7401 9919, www.shakespearesglobe.com



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