A piece of interlinked wooden fencing hangs centerstage and resembles the partition of a confession box. Sipping on sangria included with the ticket, the play commences under an ominous mood light that blankets the stage. Actors are gallantly and impressively clad in the contemporary style as they set the scene in the Jacobean fashion. What unfolds is a triumphant production that often manages to wrestle with its comedy-tragedy content.
Megan Williams is cool, calm and collected in the role of Beatrice-Joanna, a woman who slowly descends unto herself while entangled between two admirers. Williams plays from strength to strength as the play progresses; her white cotton clothes slowly shedding layers of herself as both actor and character seem to unwind and elevate. Meanwhile, her father, Vermandero, played by Izzy Caldwell, gives her daughter room to breathe in-between the madness. Catching the audience in small flights of laughter, Caldwell eases between calculating maternal figure and comic relief throughout the production.
Her servant De Flores, however, is much less measured. Though often over played at times by Arsentiy Novak, the role actually seems to benefit from the excess when coupled with murderous intent and crude sexual motivations. The role intensifies as the production unravels, once giving me chills and eliciting subtle gasps from the audience. This strongly contrasts the performance of Jordan Mitchell as Alsemero. While looking smouldering and calm in his Spanish doublet, he sadly seems to restrain his emotions, appearing in a constant state of melancholy or repressed distress. This falls in line with much of the ensemble cast, some of which provide small entertaining moments - Ollie MacNaughton, Jennifer Lack and Shin Hui Lee to name a few - while others sometimes fall a little flat at times.
Meanwhile, in the Asylum section of the production, both Shaun Harper and Molly Gearen have eased into their roles. Harper is soothing, doting and characteristically absent as the old doctor Alibius. While he could have been a tad more malicious and bewildered, this is made up for by Gearen’s consistent performance as his young wife Isabella. Emotive and radiant on stage, her portrayal of the character is entertaining and wholesome, particularly as she seems to not only perform, but even bring the scene together.
The Anatomy Theatre is used to its extent. Scenes clamber onto the mezzanine level and speak from various lengths of the space while a large mood light emotively floods the main stage area - sometimes too presumably, though typically effective. What was often seen little of however, was using the dim but warm lighting of candles around the stage which, when they do make an appearance, added a sense of serenity and forbidding to the scenes. Nevertheless, they compliment the extravagantly beautiful wardrobe and lively Spanish guitar rhythms that ebb the transition between various acts and scenes.
What we are given is a play that began tentatively, but grew. Ferociously strong red lights make murders drip while the well-furnished set of a Spanish church sits analogously with it. As a production that effectively highlights and enjoys its subject matter, providing a variety of strong and admirable performances, good direction and creative outlook, ‘The Changeling’ is one to see and enjoy. A pleasurable break during this exam season.