14 Jul The Changeling by Middleton & Rowley
Directed by Andrew Hilton
18 March – 24 April 2004
Production Photos © 2004 Alan Moore
Dominic Power provided a superb version of this play. It included one wholly new scene (which completed the story of the rivalry between Antonio and Franciscus, and took Vermandero to the madhouse towards the end of the play), together with many other smaller touches that strengthened the relationship between the play’s two plots.
Together with the company’s production of Macbeth, The Changeling transferred to the Barbican’s Pit Theatre for a five-week sell-out repertory season in the autumn of 2004.
Rupert Ward-Lewis Alsemero
Jonathan Nibbs Jasperino
Roland Oliver Vermandero
Saskia Portway Beatrice-Joanna
Zoë Aldrich Diaphanta
Matthew Thomas De Flores
Dan Winter Pedro
Jamie Ballard Antonio
Gyuri Sarossy Franciscus & 2nd Servant
Tom Sherman Alonzo
Alex MacLaren Tomazo
Ben Tolley 1st Servant & Officer
David Collins Alibius
Rebecca Smart Isabella
Chris Donnelly Lollio
Director Andrew Hilton
Set & Costume Designer Andrea Montag
Costume Supervisor Jane Tooze
Lighting Designer Paul Towson
Composer John Telfer
Sound Designer Dan Jones
Fight Director Kate Waters
Production Manager Clive Stevenson
Stage Managers Hazel Doherty & Pauline Skidmore
Technical Stage Manager Christian Wallace
On 23rd September 2004 the production transferred to the Pit Theatre in London’s Barbican Centre where it played in repertoire with Macbeth until 23rd October 2004. Changes of personnel were as follows:
1st Servant & Officer Richard Corgan
Set Re-Design Vicki Cowan-Ostersen
Costume Supervisor Kate Whitehead
Prosthetics Designer Denise Baron
Production Manager Adam Carrée
Assistant Stage Manager Jayne Byrom
★★★★ The Independent “Ugliness demeans us all”, is the attention-grabbing caption on posters for Nip/Tuck, the television series about plastic surgery. But one of the salutary virtues of The Changeling – Middleton and Rowley’s brilliant Jacobean tragedy, revived in a production of great power and persuasion by Andrew Hilton’s Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory company in Bristol – is how it demonstrates that a world in which everyone was beautiful would be a world inadequate for human desire in all its compelling perversity. For ugliness has ways of making itself attractive, to both benign and malign effect. If it didn’t exist, we would have to invent it.
We see that truth through the tragic journey of Beatrice-Joanna, who is played with just the right spoilt glamour and nerviness by Saskia Portway. This grandee’s daughter needs to get rid of her fiancé, who has been secretly ousted from her affections by the dishy Alsemero (Rupert Ward-Lewis). So she resorts to hiring the aid of a courtier, De Flores, whose seething admiration for her is vividly captured by Matthew Thomas. He has a facial disfigurement, but the heroine’s unconcealed revulsion at that is, in fact, suppressed attraction, for she sees the depraved side of herself reflected in him, and it is both fearful and exciting…
Hilton’s production has a terrific purity of focus and an admirable ability to make “horror” genuinely horrific. It allows the anaesthetic of familiarity with gruesome theatrical convention to wear off, so that, for example, when De Flores decides to sever one of the dead man’s fingers to present (as a sexually suggestive token) to the heroine, he is shown struggling realistically with recalcitrant bone and gristle.
Staged in the round, with eavesdroppers on the action emerging unnervingly from the dark spaces behind the seating, it is full of touches that ensure that we do not confuse this tragedy with mere melodrama. Asides, therefore, are not delivered stagily to the audience but mostly by creating an effect of suspended time that permits the speaker to look directly into the eyes of the character who is being talked about.
Diagonally opposite each other are two prison gates, serving to accommodate the subplot, set in a lunatic asylum presided over here by Chris Donnelly’s subversively funny keeper Lollio. Aping the main action in its deployment of blackmail, rewards for service rendered and women forced to choose between love and duty, this strand is robustly integrated, and the production pulls off a startling coup at the end when those same gates that have shut people out clang together to lock everyone – cast and audience – into the world-as-hellish-madhouse.
In another psychologically appropriate feature, Beatrice-Joanna and De Flores die straining to gaze at each other – her official compunction undercut by a defiant fascination with a man who has become her partner in more than crime. The Changeling, along with other examples of this company’s fine work, comes to the Barbican later in the year, and is highly recommended. Paul Taylor
★★★★ The Guardian Love is a madness in Middleton and Rowley’s 1622 drama, a piece that often feels like two plays stuck together with 17th-century sticky tape, but which is unusually whole in Andrew Hilton’s sharp production. In the main plot – almost certainly Middleton – the heiress Beatrice-Joanna, already betrothed to Alonzo, turns to murder when she falls in love with Alsemero. She turns to the disfigured De Flores, a man she loathes, to commit the crime and so falls in sexual thrall to him. In the subplot – a jet-black comedy – two gentlemen disguise themselves as madmen to gain access to the asylum and lay siege to the superintendent’s beautiful wife.
A break from the Bard has done wonders for this company, and this marks a real return to form. As ever, the production is done with careful simplicity, but there is something so transparent about the acting that it is as if you are seeing the play for the first time. Very appropriate for a drama that is so much about blindness and inability to see the truth. Hilton’s production latches on to this, so that Alonzo and Diaphanta die because love and lust blind them, while the corruption of Beatrice-Joanna is complete when she sees De Flores not as he really is, but as a creature of beauty.
Played on the same raised platform as the accompanying production of Macbeth, this is an intimate, atmospheric show that is direct and fresh, and which, although it never shirks the horror and corruption into which Saskia Portway’s Beatrice-Joanna and Matthew Thomas’s De Flores sink, finds the humanity in their failings. When the madhouse superintendent observes, “The madness that was fettered in my house is now abroad,” he speaks the truth of a world turned upside-down by love and lust, in which the virtuous become villainous, the innocent are proclaimed guilty and truth goes disguised. Lyn Gardner
The Observer … Andrew Hilton’s production of The Changeling begins with the sound of a boy soprano singing a sanctus off-stage, and ends with the slam of Bedlam’s grilles on each side of the auditorium. It projects from first to last the strange strands of this complicated play, showing a purity that is doomed to be corrupted, and a world in which anyone troublesome – argumentative wife or supposed madman – is likely to be locked up.
In productions at the Tobacco Factory the staging makes crystal-clear what can take hours of speeches to explain. The actors, no celebs here, but an ensemble that audiences can watch growing from season to season – make seventeenth century cadences sound like the beat of twenty-first century prose. The bare staging creates different rooms with a single stroke: a patch of light slatted with bars from a window; a padded ottoman; a scatter of notes from a Spanish guitar.
As a consequence you get, as if newly minted, the free-floating madness of Middleton and Rowley’s play – whose high points include the substitution of maid for mistress in a bridegroom’s bed, the trial of an early pregnancy-testing kit, and the triumphant severing of a dead man’s finger. Most of all, you get the sense of personality in flux. Susannah Clapp
The Evening Standard Middleton and Rowley provide enthrallment and chills in equal measure in this satisfyingly complex, surprisingly explicit Jacobean drama, out of which director Andrew Hilton extracts every last intriguing drop of possibility.
The setting is the loosely conjured Spain of 1622, but the themes are universal: power; honour; lust, love and deceit. Two compelling plot strands – one of which has been remodelled here by Dominic Power – present women trapped by the mores of society and governed by the iron diktats of father or husband.
In the dominant story, Beatrice-Joanna, a wealthy nobleman’s daughter, is engaged to one man when she suddenly falls for another. In despair at her father’s insistence that the original wedding go ahead, she turns to one of his manservants for help. The disfigured De Flores has himself long harboured designs on his master’s child and is prepared to lend a hand, but only for the highest of prices.
With so much conniving going on – The Changeling’s second thrust plays out in a Bedlam-like asylum in which a surprising number of inmates are attracted to the superintendent’s young wife – Vicki-Cowan-Ostersen’s spare set works a treat. A raised wooden platform is supplemented by the odd prop when necessary, thus ensuring that the traffic of the stage is kept flowing fast and freely at all times.
There is not a weak link in the kinetic, 15-strong ensemble, whose members crop up thrillingly in the most unexpected places. Matthew Thomas’s De Flores has a left cheek like a dish of raw mince, yet Thomas movingly shows how this perforce distant man melts at the touch of his unrequited love’s hand.
Saskia Portway convincingly traces Beatrice-Joanna’s terrifying journey from love to murder; Chris Donnelly is a shrewd asylum attendant; and Roland Oliver’s Vermandero uses geniality to mask his demand for absolute obedience. The brutal last scene makes a rare, visceral impact. Highly recommended. Fiona Mountford
The world of this play is in sharp contrast to the largely mythical ‘Scotland’ of Macbeth. Middleton and Rowley’s ‘Alicante’ is much more an image of the London that the authors knew: obsessed with wealth and status and dominated by egotistical hot-heads for whom the critical concept of honour has become dangerously debased. No longer essentially a moral quality, it is merely an adjunct to power – to great houses, fine clothes, money and jewels – and conferred by birth rather than worth.
Middleton is generally credited with the main hand in the central Beatrice/De Flores plot and – in his comparatively spare and workaday language – he fashions a story that echoes Macbeth in its headlong movement and the appalling, erotic excitement in the anticipation of ‘the deed’. But, stylistically, he forges a path of his own, daringly developing the conventional ‘aside’ into what is at times a parallel reality; characters converse with each other and share their thoughts with the audience in surprising and exciting collisions of meaning and experience.
The other challenge the play presents is its sub-plot, generally credited to Rowley. Set – nominally – in Alicante’s own asylum, its Spanish disguise is even thinner than the main plot’s. Clearly we are in London’s ‘Bedlam’ and being royally entertained, as Londoners were in real life, with madness. But is this pure ‘citizens’ comedy’ or something darker – and does it integrate with the development of the main plot in quite the way Middleton had imagined? For this production Dominic Power has remodelled these sections of the play in tone and structure, and added one entirely new scene. Andrew Hilton