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Posted by : RodDungate on Jun 05, 2016 - 03:12 PM RSC
Stratford Upon Avon
THE ALCHEMIST: Ben Jonson
RSC: The Swan, Stratford Upon Avon, to 6 August, then Barbican 2 September to 1 October

Runs: 2h 45m, one interval
Tkts: 0844 800 1110
www.rsc.org

Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 4 June 2016

Proof that good pruning and TLC promotes blossoming

THE ALCHEMIST is Jonson's greatest play; the satire is biting, the plotting is dense and ingenious. But it is full of pit-falls. The language that's thrown around is a difficult mixture of poetry and bricks, the morality troublesome. Jonson simply doesn't make it easy for us; everybody in the play, it would seem, is on the make – except the owner of the house in which the action takes place. But then he gets rid of all the fools, hypocrites and con-men and takes all the proceeds for himself, reaping all the benefits of the crimes. Oh yes, and he promotes the chief con-man, his servant, Face, because of all the dosh he's acquired.

This production goes a long way to reveal the play as Jonson intended it. First of all there's the performing version, expertly tailored for today by Stephen Jeffreys, together with a lovely new-writ prologue perfectly setting the play in context.

You sense, too, that director, Polly Findlay, both understands the play and is prepared to trust it. Jonson, along with others, saw the stage as a mirror, but in his case a distorting mirror; from those distortions stems the comedy, and the comedy is there to make society a better place. Findlay, cleverly, doesn't over-distort the characters, they always have at least one foot in the real world. Nor does she over push the pace to release the comedy, and thereby kill it off. The acting is relaxed (though fully energised) and the play is allowed to find its own rhythm. This she can do as Jeffreys has snipped away about a fifth of the text. The comedy is somewhat gentler, but it's always there, and there is a genuine sense of delight among us in the auditorium at the subversive theatricality (another quality Jonson delighted in.)

Excellently gauged performances from Mark Lockyer and Ken Nwosu (Subtle and Face) shifting characterisations to suit their clients; the criminal triumvirate completed with a likeable, humorous, and tough-as-old-boots, Dol from Siobhan McSweeney. The rest of the company are uniformly terrific.

Neighbour: Will Bliss
Ananias: John Cummins
Neighbour: Ruth Everett
Neighbour / Officer: Gabriel Fleary
Neighbour: Theo Fraser Steel
Neighbour / Officer: Natey Jones
Abel Drugger: Richard Leeming
Subtle: Mark Lockyer
Kastril: Tom McCall
Dapper: Joshua McCord
Dol Common: Siobhan McSweeney
Lovewit: Hywell Morgan
Face: Ken Nwasu
Sir Epicure Mammon: Ian Redford
Dame Pliant: Rosa Robson
Sir Pertinax Surly: Tim Samuels
Tribulation Wholesome: Timothy Speyer
Neighbour: Eleanor Wyld

Director: Polly Findlay
Designer: Helen Goddard
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Sound: Gregory Clarke
Movement Director: Clive Mendus
Fights: Kate Waters
Original Prologue and Script Revision: Stephen Jeffreys
 
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