Theatre review: The Changeling at the Young Vic

17th century play gets passionate retelling with help from Beyonce

Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s seventeenth-century play The Changeling gets a passionate retelling at the Young Vic theatre.

Under Joe Hill-Gibbens’ direction, the focus is placed on the tragic element of the play: the doomed romance between Alsemero, a nobleman, and Beatrice-Joanna, the eligible daughter of a castle governor. Their love appears to be thwarted by Beatrice-Joanna’s impending marriage to another man, until Beatrice-Joanna finds a solution that unleashes dreadful consequences.

Jessica Raine, currently starring in the BBC’s Call the Midwife, makes a spirited heroine, while her foils, the beautiful but increasingly suspicious Alsemero and the repulsive but increasingly compelling servant De Flores, are also well-judged by actors Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Daniel Cerqueira. Their story plays out on a set that makes little reference to Spain (the play’s location), but instead uses gym mats, wheeled cages and half-finished scaffolding to convey the turmoil and confusion of the world inhabited by the characters.

At first the juxtaposition of these modern props (including music; Beyonce’s Single Ladies makes a memorable appearance) with Renaissance language jars, but as the action unfolds it begins to make more and more sense – in contrast to the accelerating loss of sanity on display by Beatrice-Joanna and her suitors. The play builds to a climax that is devastating as much as it is inevitable.

* The Changeling is at the Young Vic in The Cut, SE1, until February 25.