Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Alchemist - Ben Johnson

on Thursday R and I had another Stratford trip. This time to see 'The Alchemist', the omens were good when a hitherto resolutely grey sky suddenly turned to blue as we found the car park. The sun stayed out so we managed to enjoy fish and chips on the grass by the river (on the upside we weren't mugged by geese, on the downside we were subjected to the efforts of a particularly bad busker) surrounded by other people doing the same and all studying programmes.

The remaining chips disposed of in pigeons we got our own programmes and finally did our homework as to what the play might be about, and then took our seats. It seemed a hood sign that the director didn't make an appearance (opening nights can be hit or miss) but this play (unlike Cymboline) was ready to go.

We were back in The Swan, and though my experience is relatively limited, it's easily my favourite theatre. There's something about the feel of the place that I just love, that I've seen so many very good things there adds to its charm too.

This time was no exception. The set was beautiful; dark, candlelight, and convincingly like a contemporary Dutch still life - I wish I could have taken pictures of it. And then there was the opening music which successfully set a tone of sly humour and hot the first round of applause of the evening.

Neither of us were overly familiar with Johnson, so everything was fresh to us - and as the play deals with how easy it is to con the gullible, greedy, ambitious, or hypocritical passer by its basically evergreen. Briefly it's 1610 and plague is rife in London. The wealthy Lovewit has gone to the country for the duration leaving his house in the care of his butler Jeremy. Jeremy teams up with Dol Common, and Subtle (the alchemist) and they set out to make their fortunes by conning as many people as they can. Though there are tensions and a lack of trust between the three, they do remarkably well until everyone turns up almost at once including Lovewit...

I know the play is 400 years old but I don't want to give away the end because the conclusion surprised us. What I will say was that the moral ambiguity was refreshing!

Meanwhile there were some bloody marvellous performances. Siobhan McSweeney was just brilliant as Dol. As was Ian Redford as Sir Epicure Mammon, he has some extraordinary speeches to deliver, and was so good he too got a spontaneous round of applause. We really liked Mark Lockyer's Subtle as well - but everyone was good. So good that I wish I could see this one again, and for anyone going to Stratford this summer - don't miss it!

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