The Changeling

“Sex, Strangulation and Sin”: MIRANDA JOHNSON (with help from WILL SMITH, no less) are convinced by this Jacobean antidote to Valentine’s day.

Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio, 7.30pm, Thurs 14th – Sat 16th, admission free

Directed by Daniel Fulvio

(Some observations here were made by Miranda’s +1, The Tab’s very own lovely rugby lad, Will Smith. Ed.)

Photo courtesy of Jethro Thompson

‘He is bold’, Beatrice-Joanna complains, the adulterate murderess of Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling, ‘but I am to blame’. Male desire is a female problem in this play, as are a girl’s own wants as it turns out. Bea-Jo’s father Vermandero (yes, The Changeling is one of those plays in which everyone has a strangely complex Italian name and you aren’t quite certain who they are much of the time unless of course you are making incredibly diligent reviewing notes obviously ahem) arranges for her to marry someone she doesn’t fancy. To secure herself Alsemero instead, Bea-Jo has her fiancé killed and pays for it with her virginity. Ah. As you do. What a treat on Valentine’s Day.

The Greenwich Village jazz bar setting of Daniel Fulvio’s production captures a sense of seedy seduction well, as actors voice seventeenth-century verse in twentieth-century American accents. The ‘yankification’ of renaissance drama seems to be popular, the RSC’s recent ‘Measure for Measure’ set in Las Vegas being a prime example. I’m a huge fan of this shift, and loved the drawling southern cadences of Adam Kirton as manic, murdering Deflores. Occasionally lines, words and sense were swallowed in the pursuit of an accent, but Harry Sheehan’s clipped British speech did provide a welcome comic contrast.

Beatrice Joanna’s discomfort at marrying her love Alsemero was succinctly captured in a wedding photo tableau. ‘Makin’ Whoopee’ played in the background and the 50s setting finally managed to justify itself as more than just a slick cover story. Other musical interludes were less successful. Playboy magazine’s virginity test was also a witty reinterpretation of Alsemero’s fetish for fidelity and its effects generated a lot of laughs.

I would particularly like to mention Poppy Damon’s delightful portrayal of Diaphanta as one of the production’s highlights. She adopted her American persona with energy and provided a bubbly distraction, refreshing the audience after the intensity of scenes between Kirton and Laura Gilbert as Bea-Jo. The latter gave a convincing performance of Bea-Jo as a victim in the male game of marriage. Productions of revenge tragedies can often descend into farce as blood and body bits start to accumulate. Kirton’s capable strangling techniques however preserved a gritty realism that lasted even as he attempted to sever a finger. Perhaps this did go on a little too long though. Ugh.

While there were some kinks in the dramatic machinery, Fulvio’s production of ‘The Changeling’ is definitely worth watching if, like third-year English students, you have a familiarity with the at times obscure language of Jacobean tragedy. The show is free, and the Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio in the basement of the English Faculty is actually a very effective performance space for a play interested in the intimacy of ‘cabinets’ and ‘circumscriptions’. While the production cuts out huge chunks of the original, the timing works well and sense is preserved. Sex, strangulation and sin. The perfect antidote for Valentine’s smoosh.