Theatre review: The Changeling at Southwark Playhouse

Historical play is given a renaissance in a 21st century setting

Written in 1622 by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Rowley, this tragedy of love and lust has been reconstructed for a modern audience by director Michael Oakley.

The sub-plot has been axed and all the bloodthirsty scenes of the main plot are presented as one short, continuous, action-packed drama.

But aggressively 21st century costumes do not sit easily with 17th century attitudes and speech-patterns.

The result is that in the opening scenes is some clunky acting by Fiona Hampton (Beatrice-Joanna), as she attempts to represent virginity in a black lace mini dress and teeteringly high heels.

However, as the action progresses and the lust and cruelty underlying her innocent fa�ade are revealed, she gives at times a powerful and moving performance.

David Coles, while making almost no attempt to look ugly as required by the text, is magnificent as the lust-crazed psychopath, De Flores - fighting, killing, mutilating and raping with convincing reality – not easy when the audience is so close to the performance.

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The set, designed by Fotini Dimou and resembling the run-down office of a failing business on a modern industrial estate, is a far cry from Middleton and Rowley’s castle in Alicante. Numerous screens, depicting various other rooms in the building, are largely uninformative and distracting.

Voice-overs replace the frequent “asides” in the original play, which is an ingenious idea. But perhaps these inner voices could have been more subtly worked into and around the dialogue.

Has modernising The Changeling revealed anything new about human cruelty and sexual obsession? After watching this production, I am still unsure, but it was gripping entertainment.

* The Changeling is showing at Southwark Playhouse, in Shipwright Yard, SE1, until Saturday, November 26.