Review: OVO's highly original take on The Changeling

PUBLISHED: 09:30 23 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:30 23 May 2019

The Changeling plays at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

The Changeling plays at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

Supplied by Maltingst

Madeleine Burton reviews OVO's update of The Changeling at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans.

Making significant changes to the Jacobean masterpiece The Changeling is a risky business but local drama group OVO has never shirked a challenge.

And its decision to bring the play bang up to date and set it in a rehab clinic that has opened its doors to TV cameras largely succeeds.

Effectively The Changeling becomes a play within a play as a group of troubled celebrities in the clinic act it out as a form of drama therapy.

As a result the audience feels as though it is in a studio watching the play being performed and filmed - surely a unique experience for most.

On the whole it works well - although it helps a lot that around halfway through, there is a summary in current day parlance via a video link about what is going on because by then the role of some of the characters is confusing.

The Changeling in its original full-length version by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley is not a particularly easy play for modern audiences.

As director David Bevan points out in his programme notes, the sub-plot is set in an asylum at a time when mental illness was seen as a form of entertainment.

Aspects of the original play look to have been cherry-picked and no doubt David, an experienced actor and director, had to do that as the Jacobean version of The Changeling has more twists and turns than a labyrinth.

The OVO version focuses comfortably on the main plot - girl is promised to boy, meets and falls in love with another and persuades an admirer to kill her betrothed so that she and her lover can be together.

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There is also a sub-plot involving the young wife of the doctor who runs the rehab clinic and his fears that she will be lured from his side - much of which is set in a lunatic asylum in the original.

While the main plot is easy enough to follow, the sub-plot is much more difficult, largely because of the arcane language and some difficulty establishing who the characters actually are.

But that should not detract from a first-rate set and use of video by Simon Nicholas and some extremely good performances, most notably Emma Kemp as Beatrice Joanna and Grant Shepherd as the murderous De Flores.

The Changeling in OVO's hands is a challenge but as a way of bringing a great tragicomedy up to date, it is highly original.

● There are three more performances at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans.

Performances take place tonight (Thursday, May 23), tomorrow (Friday, May 24) and on Saturday, May 25 at 8pm.

Tickets cost £13.50, £11 and £7.50, and can be bought online at www.ticketsource.co.uk/ovo

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