THE ALCHEMIST: Ben Jonson
Belgrade Theatre, to 22 02 14
Runs: 2h 40m, one interval
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 11 02 14
Welcome energetic revival, strong in parts, missing out on others.
The Belgrade, in its wonderful studio theatre, make a bold choice to give this tricky play a much needed airing. As a whole the company fill the acting space with energy as this story of three Jacobean conmen (two men and a woman, actually) separate the daft and the nasty from their cash. The production is in contemporary dress and some changes shift the action from London to Coventry. For the most part this works well, and the risk is worth taking; Jonson was developing a new kind of drama by setting his comedies among the audience’s environment – so this production does the same, with some well-earned comedy success.
Jonson’s plays, though, are fiendishly difficult to bring off and Paul Burbridge, the director, while he has engineered the energy and certain cuts and doublings well, has not sufficiently worked on two other levels.
Missing is the comedic and dramatic danger the three villains are in. Their customers constantly turn up unexpectedly, or are suddenly remembered, or don’t do what’s expected; the triumvirate must constantly improvise to keep everything afloat – and it’s this speed of their wit that the characters themselves most enjoy and that Jonson is celebrating. Jonson was also one of his period’s greatest poets and within these plays his poetic skill is also to the fore – albeit subverted perhaps by the language and context. The production misses out on this richness.
The trio of conners (Tom Peters, Andrew Harrison, Zannah Hodson – Subtle, Face, Doll) drop in an out of their adopted roles with speed and invention to great effect. Sarah Jane-Lee brings off a delightful double as Dapper and Pliant.
Jonson’s complex and surprising morality is well played at the end, though drawing the gauze to separate us from the action at this most crucial of moments strikes me as perverse.
Kolabde Agboke; SIR EPCURE MAMMON
ALAN FRANCIS: DRUGGER/ANANIAS / Lovewit
Andrew Harrison: Face
Zannah Hodson: Doll Common
John Holden-White: Kastril
Sarah Jan-Lee: Pliant / Dapper
Rom Peters: Subtle
Barrett Robertson: Surly
Director: Paul Burbridge
Designer: Sean Cavanagh
Lightin Designer: Mark Doubleday
Sound Designer: Jonathan Bidgood