The Changeling (2006)


Barbican Centre, London
May 11–June 10, 2006

Directed by Declan Donnellan

Jotham Annan - Jasperino         Olivia Williams - Beatrice-Joanna
Jennifer Kidd - Diaphanta          David Collings - Vermandero
Will Keen - De Flores                    Jim Hooper - Alibius
Tobias Beer - Lollio                          Philip McGinley - Pedro / Franciscus
Phil Cheadle - Antonio                  Laurence Spellman - Alonzo
Clifford Samuel -Tomazo             Jodie McNee - Isabella

Cheek by Jowl's complete tour began March 3, 2006 and concluded July 22, 2006.  Performances occurred in France, Luxembourg, Germany, UK, and Spain.  Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Williams, and Will Keen spoke in Madrid about reaching the end of the tour.

Tom Hiddleston received an Ian Charleson Award Commendation for The Changeling. (CheekByJowl)


The Ian Charleson Awards are theatrical awards that reward the best classical stage performances in Britain by actors under age 30. The awards were established in 1990 after Charleson’s death, and have been awarded annually since then. Sunday Times theatre critic John Peter initiated the creation of the awards, particularly in memory of Charleson’s extraordinary Hamlet, which he had performed shortly before his death.  GMG

program cast bio
by Paul Menzer for Shakespeare Bulletin
Vol. 24 (2006)
The Johns Hopkins University Press

Taking his cue from the play's title, Donnellan's Changeling explored transformations of all kinds. This started with the play's venue, the notoriously unfriendly Barbican main-stage. Playgoers dreading the vast hall found themselves instead on bleachers banked upon the stage apron. The steeply raked seats faced the un-curtained backstage recess, an immense wall of black cinderblocks punctuated by industrial doors, wires, and a glowing "Exit" sign. The cavernous stage (extending left and right nearly beyond audience view), allowed the action to expand, the outsized parameters of the space matching the enormous emotional range of Middleton and Rowley's macabre tale. The stage was broken by a central elevator shaft that provided a kind of "discovery space" for the nuptial chamber and Alsemero's closet. Otherwise, the stage held only some casually scattered red plastic chairs, and the venue looked more suited to a rehearsal than a performance. Nevertheless, the dimly lit stage was a suitably sepulchral setting for both Alibius's madhouse and the castle of Santa Barbara. Most importantly, Donnellan's transformation of the Barbican space gave his players intimate access to the audience, which they took advantage of with sinister ease.

Underscoring the central theme of metamorphosis, the production doubled the principals as asylum inhabitants. The aristocrats of Santa Barbara became Albius's inmates. The doubling was done seamlessly: the actors simply found a chair and transformed into patients without change of costume or set. Some of these performances unfortunately lapsed into the sort of gibbering eccentricity that too often passes for insanity on stage or screen, but the doubling was theatrically and thematically efficient. Seeing our De Flores and Beatrice Joanna double as lunatics literalized the play's figurative analogy between its two main plots and settings. Whether captive or at large, everyone in this play was maddened—transformed—by lust, love, grief, or revenge. The doubling paid off brilliantly in a wedding revel of "madmen and fools" where the wedding party cavorted for their own amusement, lunatics and lovers joined in a madcap dance.

Scene changes were as seamless as the doublings. Since the stage was bare of set pieces or curtains or revolves, scenes bled into one another, with figures emerging eerily out of the dim recesses of the playing space. If these changes blurred boundaries between asylum, ballroom, and bedroom, that was surely Donnellan... Muse

by Michael Billington for The Guardian
Tuesday 16 May 2006

Madness, as much as passion, spins the plot in Middleton and Rowley's dark Jacobean masterpiece. And the supreme virtue of Declan Donnellan's Cheek by Jowl production is that the two qualities are virtually inseparable: love and lunacy join hands in a production marked by unity of purpose and what one character calls "shivering sweat".

The playing space itself is the bleakly functional Barbican backstage area. But we are instantly transported into an Alicante church when the black-suited ensemble turn their plastic chairs into prayer-stands. And the spatial grouping brilliantly illustrates the ensuing tragedy. Beatrice Joanna, the unstable heroine, is confronted by a male triangle consisting of her intended husband, Alonzo, her ardent admirer, Alsemero, and the pockmarked servant, De Flores, to whom she will end in erotic thrall. Indeed, by sanctioning De Flores's murder of Alonzo she famously becomes "the deed's creature".

The perennial problem lies in reconciling this grim tragedy with the comic subplot in which a madhouse keeper's wife is assailed by counterfeit lunatics. But Donnellan solves this at a stroke by turning the actors in the main story into the asylum inmates. Instantly we realise that Beatrice Joanna and her suitors are themselves close to madness. The heroine is a frenzied neurotic insanely attracted to the loathed De Flores. Alsemero, who she weds, keeps a well-stocked library of sex manuals. Even De Flores, though assuming a sardonic rationalism, cuts off dead men's fingers with gratuitously savage relish.

What might seem an intellectual conceit is made manifest by the fine acting. The great central scene between Beatrice Joanna and De Flores is here barely distinguishable from the madhouse interludes. Olivia Williams's wonderfully tortured heroine seems both pitiable and absurd in believing that she can satisfy her hired killer with her cheque book. And Will Keen's excellent De Flores suggests a besuited functionary demonically possessed by lust and violence. Using the space to great effect, he pursues his quarry like a bestial hunter.

For once the subplot scenes echo everything in the central story. Jim Hooper's asylum keeper seems positively dotty in his belief that he can keep Jodie McNee's raunchy young wife under lock and key, and Phil Cheadle and Philip McGinley as her pursuers respectively resemble a joke Hamlet and a pseudo Oscar Wilde. But the great moment comes when the inhabitants of both worlds join forces in a wild wedding dance that links love and madness, and suggests there is scarcely a cigarette-paper between them.  Guardian

by Michael Coveney for The Independent
Tuesday 16 May 2006
The Independent Culture

The first shock is that the Barbican Theatre has been reoccupied and reduced. An audience of only 400 people sits on the stage in uncomfortable seats. So much for the grand vision of the purpose-built RSC home in London. This is the start of Cheek by Jowl's three-year residency, and it looks like an admission of defeat.

The second shock is the play itself, surely one of the greatest plays about ungovernable lust and human frailty ever written, and rarely done with such clarity or purpose as in Declan Donnellan's production, which incorporates the mad scenes into the central plot to unprecedented effect.

The 17th-century melodramatic tragedy by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley is a dance of lust, sex and murder in which Beatrice-Joanna, the daughter of the Spanish governor of Alicante, employs her resentful vassal, De Flores, to kill her assigned fiancé, Piracquo.

She has fallen for a fey young bubble-haired Valencian merchant, Alsemero, whom the brilliant, open-faced and persuasive Tom Hiddleston makes the central pulse of the play.

But De Flores (Will Keen) is motivated by lust for his mistress, who hates his appearance but succumbs nonetheless. It's John Prescott/ Tracey Temple in reverse. So, to preserve her "honeymoon virginity", she endures a wedding night by proxy: one of the most extraordinary sequences in this revival is when Olivia Williams as Beatrice-Joanna beats the walls as her stand-in, the maid Diaphanta (Jennifer Kidd), groans with sexual pleasure with her husband.

The audience tumbles into this "new" floor-level arena, which Donnellan and his designer Nick Ormerod have populated with black suits, red plastic chairs and an ominous CCTV camera. The cast assembles, mumbling Hail Marys. They reconvene for the wedding swinging thuribles.

The main plot of sex and violence is played in semi-darkness. The sub-plot in the lunatic asylum is played in full light; this story of Antonio (Phil Cheadle) boarding the prison officer's punk wife (sulky Jodie McNee) becomes a complementary tale of misdirected lust in a parallel universe.

For the point about this play, with its world view darker than Shakespeare, is its psychological richness. It proposes the most barbaric yet totally understandable human behaviour. The Independent

Almagro Festival
Almagro Festival