By Ben Jonson
With new prologue and revised script by Stephen Jeffreys
Barbican Theatre to 01 October
London EC2Y 8DS
Runs: 2hr 30 mins including 20 min interval
Box office: 020 7638 8891
Review: by Carole Woddis of perf seen Sept 14, 2016:
A play very much for today; light the touch paper and stand clear!
It’s one of the abiding marks of our age, the con. Whether it’s flashy as in The Hustle, aspirational as in the Lottery, or sophisticated as in The Sting, the con runs through our lives. At any one moment, we’re only a hair’s breadth away from being taken for a ride. These days, it’s more likely to be an online or phone scam offering thousands of pounds at the press of a button or a computer to be saved from a terminal virus or even secondary glazing!
Everyone is on the make which is why Ben Jonson’s 1610 satire written at the height of London’s Plague still resonates so strongly with 21st century theatregoers.
We know we are as liable to be gulled as those Jonson sets up so brilliantly in the house left by Lovewit, the master fleeing disease and pestilence in Blackfriars, in the safe hands, he thinks, of his servant, Jeremy.
But Jeremy has an alter ego, Face. Joined by the markedly misanthropic `alchemist’ Subtle (in Mark Lockyer’s portrait) and Siobhan McSweeney’s Irish Dol, they lose no time in exploiting their fellow man and woman with promises of predictions, sex and the ultimate philosopher’s stone – the making of gold.
Whether it’s Abel Drugger, the young tobacconist anxious to find the right dimensions for his new shop (a touch of pre-feng shui there), the glorious Ian Redford as the sybaritic Sir Epicure Mammon luxuriating in past and future gastronomic delights (and turning at one point on the ground like a great rolly-polly), or a lawyer’s clerk hoping to make a bit on the side through marrying off a beautiful widow, none are a match for Subte’s dark scheming or the quick witted opportunism of Ken Nwosu’s lively Jeremy/Face.
Polly Findlay’s Swan transfer takes a while to get up speed, despite Stephen Jeffery’s judicious pruning. But once the victims begin to come crashing into each other, Jonson’s farce and Findlay’s touch prove irresistible.
Findlay too adds a nicely jaundiced Jonsonian finale as Nwosu changes into everyday clothes and sets about selling RSC tickets at knock down prices. Point taken. We’re all ripe for the taking.
Lovewit: Hywel Morgan
Face: Ken Nwosu
Subtle: Mark Lockyer
Dol Common: Siobhan McSweeney
Dapper: Joshua McCord
Richard Leeming: Abel Drugger
Sir Epicure Mammon: Ian Redford
Sir Pertinax Surly: Tim Samuels
Tribulation Wholesome: Timothy Speyer
Ananias: John Cummins
Kastril: Tom McCall
Dame Pliant: Rosa Robson
Neighbours: Will Bliss, Ruth Everett, Gabriel Fleary, Theo Fraser Steele, Natey Jones, Eleanor Wyld
Officers: Will Bliss, Gabriel Fleary, Natey Jones
Parson: Theo Fraser Steele
All other parts played by members of the company
Music played live by:
Guitars: Dario Rossetti-Bonell
Violin/Viola: Amy May
Trumpet: Chris Seddon
Double Bass: Martin Ludenbach
Percussion: Mark Taylor
Keyboards: Jonathan Williams
Director: Polly Findlay
Designer: Helen Goddard
Lighting Designer: Charles Balfour
Composer: Corin Buckeridge
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke
Movement Designer: Clive Mendus
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Company Voice and Text work: Nia Lynn
Assistant Director: Josh Roche
Music Director: Jonathan Williams
Casting Directors: Helena Palmer CDG, Annelie Powell
For the Literary Department: Réjane Collard-Walker
Original Prologue and Script Revisions: Stephen Jeffreys
First perf of this production of The Alchemist, May 26, 2016 in The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
First perf at the Barbican Theatre, London, Sept 2, 2016