Review: The Changeling, Southwark Playhouse

Photo by Nick Scott

Director Michael Oakley’s foreword in the programme sums up his experimental production of a well known and popular Jacobean tragedy. He looks at how asides should be presented (if at all) and decides to do them as they are done in films – with pre-recorded voice-overs. ‘We have decided to take that risk and see,’ he writes. And, while I support his risk taking approach, the voice-over asides here are clunky and sometimes hinder the smooth flow of action and dialogue on stage. There is also the potential for errors when playing these voice-over asides. For instance, on the evening I was there, one of De Flores’ asides was played at the same time while he was speaking to Beatrice-Joanna. Not all of the cast members are able to express appropriate facial expressions during these voice-overs. The ones who can, aren’t able to do so all of the time largely because of the brisk pace of the production. Some of the voice-overs are spoken so fast that it’s not always easy to understand or hear them properly. Personally, I would have preferred to have seen this version with no asides.

But asides aside, this sprightly and sinister production reinvigorates the play by stripping it down its core and neatly conveying the harmful consequences of sexual obsession. The acting is uneven but, on the whole, the small cast do their best to overcome some of the fussy stage directions. Fiona Hampton’s Beatrice-Joanna and David Caves’ De Flores stand out in this production. Hampton gives us a sizzling Beatrice-Joanna, skillfully displaying impulsiveness leading to manipulation and vulnerability at the end. Cave gives us a foreboding De Flores with chilling stalker-like tendencies. The contemporary stage design with closed circuit television underscores Caves’ creepy De Flores. The scenes involving both characters together illustrate the violent imagery of the play effectively. Sophie Cosson who plays Beatrice’s waiting lady, Diaphanta, has a small part but she gives us an an intriguing character.

By coincidence, I came across this Guardian Theatre Blog ‘What makes a good stage death?’ before I went to see The Changeling. We witness four murders on stage but, to paraphrase Oakley, I shall leave it to you to judge if they are all ‘good stage deaths’.

This review is based on a performance I saw during preview week. At the time of writing, performance running time was 80 minutes with no interval. Press night is on 7 November. The Changeling is on until 26 November. For tickets, contact the box office.


About manipillai

Oh, just a few of my thoughts on theatre.
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