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Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

The Alchemist

Published 15 September 2016

What’s it all about?

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) transports you back to the plague infested City of London. First performed in 1610, Ben Johnson’s merciless satire begins as Master of the House Lovewit is forced to flee to his country home.  His London house is left in the sole charge of his butler Jeremy who, with the assistance of fellow con artists Subtle and Dol Common, soon transforms the house into a den of fraudulent activity. Each knock at the door brings a new mark for the trio, with all going to plan until the arrival of an unwelcome visitor.

Who’s in it?

The RSC delivers a relentlessly brilliant series of side-splitting performances. The trio of would-be criminals, played by Mark Lockyer as the preening Subtle, Siobhan McSweeny as the oft-exasperated Dol Common and Ken Nwosu as the charming Face (or Jeremy to the master), each have a remarkable chameleon-like quality. The audience gets to witness the three actors change character in front of their eyes with the ring of the bell signalling a new guise, all to ensure they extract the most from their hapless victims. Ian Redford as Sir Epicure Mammon, perhaps the most gullible of them all, gives an ovation worthy speech – a masterclass in bumbling oratory.

What should I look out for?

While the play could be performed as straight-forward farce, the RSC is careful to preserve the dark nuances of the play. In a city abandoned by the wealthy, the poor and the seemingly witless are left to fend for themselves. Praying on the naiveté and insecurity of their victims, our trio of opportunist criminals seem to be getting away with it.

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In a nutshell?

A 24-carat-gold play about the pursuit of wealth and greed.

Will I like it?

Whilst the play may have been written over 400 years ago it still has much to say. Under director Polly Findlay it is given a new lease of life. Uproariously funny and pointed, this comedy is not to be missed. Each actor’s performance is timed to perfection, never missing a beat.

The Alchemist plays at the Barbican until 1 October. Tickets can be bought from the official website.

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