- The Changeling
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The Changeling is a dirty play. And by the time the lights dimmed on director Joe Hill-Gibbins’s production at the Young Vic, the actors were as physically filthy as their characters were depraved. Hill-Gibbins’s disturbing vision of the play effectively used modern dress and music, jarring lighting, and unnerving props to shock the audience into recognizing the vile depths Middleton and Rowley explored. Where weaker actors would have been dwarfed by the spectacle, this strong ensemble (cast by Amy Ball) offered compelling performances that further disconcerted the audience.
For the various locations presented on the neutral platform stage, designer Ultz built on the bleak atmosphere provided by the cinderblocks of the Maria studio theatre. The audience was ushered in and seated in-the-round: some audience members sat in plywood bleachers within arm’s reach of the set; others were seated in a make-shift mezzanine above bright red scaffolding. On a fairly bare playing area, the audience could see a table with wine and liquor, another with candles, a dressing room below part of the scaffolding, a mattress on skids next to the door, and, lastly, a picture of a young woman next to a uniformed man, whom the audience later learned is Beatrice-Joanna and her first fiancé, Alonzo. The most versatile piece of Ultz’s set was a closet on wheels. Rather than a “closet” in the early modern sense of small chamber or private room, this closet was comparable to a modern wardrobe. Throughout the play it was used both as Dr. Alibius’s supply closet (with his pregnancy tests, virginity potions, and, in this production, a penis-enhancer) and as a claustrophobic place to hold both criminals and lunatics.
With just under two hours of performance and no intermission, the sex and violence was relentless. Disjointed music and flashing lights brought the audience into the chaotic world of The Changeling. Hill-Gibbins juxtaposed the brief sensory assault with the relative tranquillity of the play’s first few moments, set outside a church. Soon, however, the actors set a fast tempo, with concurrent conversations and multiple asides addressed directly to particular audience members, delivered while leaning into the plywood stands or looking up at the scaffolding. The simple black square taped on the floor served to distinguish who could hear whom: those within the square could not hear those without, and vice versa. [End Page 312]
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The opening scene offered glimpses into the main characters’ personalities but did not truly foreshadow the horrors that were to come. In her dark dress with small white polka dots and a black demi-veiled hat, Jessica Raine as Beatrice-Joanna skilfully bantered with Alsemero, manipulated her father, and scorned De Flores. As Alsemero, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith was sweetly smitten with Beatrice-Joanna and endearingly confused when she said to her father, “I find him [Alsemero] much desirous / To see your castle.” Beatrice-Joanna’s contempt for De Flores initially earned him some sympathy from the audience, though this quickly turned to revulsion when he symbolically raped her glove, sensually smelling it, rubbing it on his skin, and inserting his hand. Daniel Cerquiera as De Flores captivated the audience, savoring his words as much as he relished the glove: “I should thrust my / My fingers into her sockets here.”
After De Flores’s soliloquy closed the first scene, the cast seamlessly transformed Ultz’s minimalist set...