- The Changeling, and: Twelfth Night
In Cheek-by-Jowl director Declan Donnellan's recent book, The Actor and the Target, he declares that, "the imagination improves itself when we simply see things as they are. But seeing things is not so easy sometimes . . . " (10). On the evidence of his recent productions of The Changeling and Twelfth Night, it is Donnellan's peculiar gift—or, more likely, the product of a lifetime of hard work—to see texts as though for the first time, unprejudiced by orthodox readings. Produced in different venues, by different casts, under different auspices, the two productions shared the rare ability to make revelation seem both surprising and inevitable. Both productions were studded with insight and staged with thrilling economy.
Taking his cue from the play's title, Donnellan's Changeling explored transformations of all kinds. This started with the play's venue, the notoriously unfriendly Barbican main-stage. Playgoers dreading the vast hall found themselves instead on bleachers banked upon the stage apron. The steeply raked seats faced the un-curtained backstage recess, an immense wall of black cinderblocks punctuated by industrial doors, wires, and a glowing "Exit" sign. The cavernous stage (extending left and right nearly beyond audience view), allowed the action to expand, the outsized parameters of the space matching the enormous emotional range of Middleton and Rowley's macabre tale. The stage was broken by a central elevator shaft that provided a kind of "discovery space" for the nuptial chamber and Alsemero's closet. Otherwise, the stage held only some casually scattered red plastic chairs, and the venue looked more suited to a rehearsal than a performance. Nevertheless, the dimly lit stage was [End Page 95] a suitably sepulchral setting for both Alibius's madhouse and the castle of Santa Barbara. Most importantly, Donnellan's transformation of the Barbican space gave his players intimate access to the audience, which they took advantage of with sinister ease.
Underscoring the central theme of metamorphosis, the production doubled the principals as asylum inhabitants. The aristocrats of Santa Barbara became Albius's inmates. The doubling was done seamlessly: the actors simply found a chair and transformed into patients without change of costume or set. Some of these performances unfortunately lapsed into the sort of gibbering eccentricity that too often passes for insanity on stage or screen, but the doubling was theatrically and thematically efficient. Seeing our De Flores and Beatrice Joanna double as lunatics literalized the play's figurative analogy between its two main plots and settings. Whether captive or at large, everyone in this play was maddened—transformed—by lust, love, grief, or revenge. The doubling paid off brilliantly in a wedding revel of "madmen and fools" where the wedding party cavorted for their own amusement, lunatics and lovers joined in a madcap dance.
Scene changes were as seamless as the doublings. Since the stage was bare of set pieces or curtains or revolves, scenes bled into one another, with figures emerging eerily out of the dim recesses of the playing space. If these changes blurred boundaries between asylum, ballroom, and...