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A CurtainUp London Review
When co-author William Rowley arranged publication he called it a comedy, except that we also have to bear in mind that the French word comedie applies to any drama, not just funny ones. Certainly anyone just listening to the audience during the first act would think, from the laughter, that they were attending a comedy. But then our reaction to discomfort often is to laugh.
The Changeling is a difficult play because of our lack of sympathy with any of the characters. We don't really feel any pity for those murdered or empathy with those in a difficult situation, which can only be resolved apparently by murdering someone. The interplay is set in an asylum for the insane as the jailor's wife Isabella (Sarah MacRae) wards off two suitors disguised as inmates and keeps her virtue.
But it is with the main play that we have the probleml. Beatrice-Joanna (Hattie Morahan), engaged to one man but in love with another, engages a scurrilous villain, De Flores (Trystan Gravelle) to murder the man her father wants her to marry. He demands payment not gold or jewels but Beatrice-Joanna's virginity. Strangely as the play progresses Beatrice-Joanna finds a strange attraction to the repulsive De Flores.
Could The Changeling be a satire? Does it satirise the over-formality of the Spanish court from which Protestant England so recently escaped, with the death of Mary Tudor, married to Philip II of Spain and the failure of the Spanish Armada in 1588 when Philip sent the Spanish fleet against Mary's half sister, Elizabeth I? It was written some thirty years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Hattie Morahan has an astonishing vocal range, her high flirtatious little girl voice contrasting with the one she uses when crossed, when she speaks from the depths of her boots. Admittedly, it is not the best outcome to be betrothed to one you don't care for, but I suspect, then as now, arranged marriages weren't designed to offer choice. Trystan Gravelle doesn't really quite chill as he is meant to as the evil De Flores and he is not helped by the mirth of the audience. I liked the length of time De Flores takes to kill Alonzo (Tom Stuart) as a real and bloody fight takes place.
The costumes are accurate even if I found some of the breeches broiderie trim a little silly looking through modern eyes and actors are reporting that the cod pieces are rather small but not distracting. Claire van Kampen's eerie music adds to the seventeenth century atmosphere and a lone violin accompanies the dance of the lunatics. The lighting is mostly candles but in the first scene initially some wooden panels are moved at the back of the audience to cast more light onto the stage.
The real joy of The Changeling for me is the language. It's full of sexual innuendo and overly ripe allusion. Don't miss the opportunity to see this play is a near authentic setting.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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