Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s 17th-century masterpiece sees the maiden, Beatrice-Joanna, attempt to dispose of her betrothed, Alonzo, so she can marry her true love, Alsemero. When, however, she conscripts De Flores, an ugly servant who obsessively dotes on her, to assassinate the former she soon learns money will not be his reward.
Director Joe Hill-Gibbins sets the piece in the modern day, while Ultz’s designs place the action in a gladiatorial-style arena with the audience seated around, or looking down from on high. The stage is strewn with beds, dressing rooms, cages and disco booths, while the action employs a range of surreal effects. Sex is portrayed through passionate jelly rubbing, wounds are inflicted by hurling custard, while deaths result from jam flinging, drowning in punch, and dowsing in foam from a fire extinguisher.
If the staging is undoubtedly bold, what it signifies is somewhat less clear. The approach is, however, effective in generating atmosphere, and over the two hours' running time we genuinely feel the spiraling descent from order and general innocence into chaos and total depravity. The experience is aided by strong performances from Jessica Raine and Daniel Cerqueira, with Beatrice’s enigmatic transition from hating the sight of De Flores to becoming totally dependent upon him played out convincingly before our very eyes.
So how does Hill-Gibbins’ colourful creation strictly rate as a production of The Changeling? Given the uniqueness of the staging, it feels almost an irrelevant question, but this is an evening that will undoubtedly appeal to your alternative, fun-loving streak. By the same token, however, it is definitely not one for the purists.
Until 25 February 2012. Tickets: 020 7922 2922 or from the Young Vic website.
Photo: Jessica Raine as Beatrice-Joanna and Charlotte Lucas as her waiting-woman, Diaphanta, © Tristram Kenton.