Thomas Middleton’s asylum sub-plot in The Changeling is a somewhat confusing addition to his dark revenge tragedy. To counteract this problem, director Joe Hill-Gibbins has chosen to transform his Young Vic production into a mental, anarchic experience where a castle becomes a gymnasium and a royal feast consists of jelly and custard.
This jelly and custard has other purposes too. While Jessica Raine may begin the play as a Kate Middleton-esque princess, all sensible court shoes and knee-length wrap dresses, by the end of it she’s left wearing little else but a man’s shirt and deranged expression, her body and clothing smeared in the gooey food stuff that comes to represent far more than just sugary decadence.
Raine has often brought an ice queen edge to her roles on stage and The Changeling is no exception. A fitting addition to her character Beatrice, whose dark side spirals out of control after a flippant command to the repellent De Flores to rid her of her unwanted fiancée, this slice of ice queen in an otherwise whiter than white virgin princess, leads to her moral unravelling and a complicated plot that sees more than one person’s life destroyed.
As the audience sits in church pews, behind nets or even, in the case of a lucky few – or unlucky depending on your personal preference to being so close to the, at times, fairly mental action – in wheelchairs, the impressive cast of eight holds nothing back as they embrace Hill-Gibbons’s imaginative direction full heartedly.
When this includes everything from a hallucinogenic dance routine to Beyoncé, smearing each other in food to represent coital bliss or covering yourself in Askey’s strawberry sauce while performing a particularly graphic death scene, it’s asking a lot. While odd moments of the two hour show may get lost in the madness, the majority is delivered with a raucous energy reminiscent of a Filter show with just a touch of Told By An Idiot’s surrealism thrown in.
With people locked in shaking boxes, a cupboard full of magical and wacky pharmaceuticals, bizarre murders and a conclusion that brings a new sinister edge to food fights, The Changeling is an overwhelming, grotesque, acid-trip of a show, which might just leave you with a big, bemused smile on your face.