THE ALCHEMIST To 13 October.


by Ben Jonson.

Liverpool Playhouse Williamson Square L1 1EL To 6 October 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm except 25 Sept 5.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm Sat 2pm.
Audio-described 4 Oct 7.30pm.
Captioned 6 Oct 2pm.
Post-show Discussion 25 Sept.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.

TICKETS: 0151 709 4776.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 September.

Tricks all round in a whizz-bang modern setting for Jonson’s satire on cupidity.
All the world’s a stage and there’s no business like show business. Irving Berlin’s hymn to the stage frames Robert Icke’s Liverpool revival of Ben Jonson’s caustic comedy, while Colin Richmond’s down-at-heel design shows a modern stage within the Playhouse’s own, a room outlined by enough doors to frame a farce in the basement where Face lures people with promises of wealth to be provided by the fake Alchemist Subtle.

Jonson starts amid their furious argument; here the three tricksters (there’s also their moll Dol) are in a silent calm-between-storms of a discord put aside when the marks start marching in. The street entrance is deliberately disconnected in a self-conscious theatricality fit for the shameless showmen charlatans conning their acquisitive society.

Ian Bartholomew’s Subtle sits in his vest, ready to don appropriate garb and manner – scientist, American counter-culture guru, exotic mystic – for each victim. There’s impressive dispatch from the trio when the doorbell rings, teamwork which contrasts their personal quarrels with practised skills in setting up scenarios to fool the visitors who all come in for what they think they’ll get out of it.

Icke’s cut and added to Jonson’s script without losing its spirit. Less successfully he tries the increasingly weary device of involving the audience. Then, just as Shakespeare, had he ever tried such a sharp-edged comedy, would have been bringing about a resolution, Jonson ends by upping the ferocity of deceit. Icke fully supports him here too.

But it would be for nothing without strong performances. Bartholomew’s ever-changing, confident-mannered Subtle contrasts Nicolas Tennant’s Face, on the edge of morose when not high on deception, and Lara Rossi’s Dol, vocally underpowered at moments but lively, purposeful and more than usually evident as the glue that binds the two men together.

Good work too from the victims. The modern setting dampens some of Jonson’s verbal flights, but introduces clear modern types, including Ellie Kirk’s Dame Pliant, turned into a slow-witted, ever-smiling teenager and Joshua Higgott’s Dapper, fresh from a sheltered upbringing and thinking he’s making his way in the world rather than becoming a sheep ready for the fleecing.

Subtle: Ian Bartholomew.
Sir Epicure Mammon: Simon Coates.
Kastril: Hasan Dixon.
Surly: Kevin Harvey.
Dapper: Joshua Higgott.
Tribulation: Laurence Kennedy.
Dame Pliant: Ellie Kirk.
Ananias: John McGrellis.
Drugger: Kristian Phillips.
Dol: Lara Rossi.
Face: Nicolas Tennant.
Lovewit: Roger Watkins.

Director: Robert Icke.
Designer: Colin Richmond.
Lighting: Mike Gunning.
Sound/Composer: Tom Mills.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Daniel Raggett.

2012-09-22 11:17:48

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