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The Changeling - National Theatre London 1988




'Dudley’s set is, amongst other things, a versatile and clever conceit. It serves the play’s preoccupation with insanity, real and counterfeit, and with disordered feeling forcibly kept down and out of sight […]. But this sort of domineering set demands (especially in this auditorium) powerful central performers. Without them you are left with so-called director’s theatre. The struggle is uneven. Miranda Richardson gave, I felt, a more subtle performance than she has been credited with. Her Beatrice is a contained study of unknowing innocence waking up in a trap of sexual and moral consequences. But it is a chamber performance given in a concert hall […]. George Harris’s tall, dignified De Flores is an engaging, simple villain. When he speaks, at the end, of the pleasure her love gave him, it is a touching moment of truth. He is a hybrid of Iago and Othello but lacks the powerful essence of either character. He certainly has physical presence, but vocally there is only a limited ability to explore the rhythms of the verse.' Christopher Edwards, ‘Damned Souls’, The Spectator, 2 July 1988

'There is a single basic setting of a Moorish hall with a central archway far upstage, with metal staircases on either side ascending to a gallery with a central balcony. From the centre of the stalls, where I sat, this looked splendid an offered admirable sightlines, though I gather that those sitting at the sides had difficulty seeing the action centre stage: something that surely should have been considered and avoided. The staircases in fact served most effectively to denote the presence of the madhouse that accommodates the sub-plot and were used here as a constant reminder of the frenzy that imbues the whole play… With its central, ceilinged enclosure and side staircases, often containing simultaneous action, this cannot have been an easy set to light, but Mark Henderson succeeded in doing so to admirable effect. This stimulating production is unquestionably worth seeing.' David Fingleton,  Review, Arts Review, 15 July 1988

'The handsome baroque set designed by William Dudley has the claustrophobic sense of a prison, pressing in on all sides. The madmen’s cells are positioned either side of the stage round spiral staircases – fire escapes which lead right into the flame, as it turns out. The overriding irony at the centre of the play is, however, lacking and the fierce wit which articulates this most decadent of subjects frequently falls flat.' Betty Caplan, ‘Family Fortunes’, New Statesman and Society, 8 July 1988

'The special triumph of Richard Eyre’s production is in his handling of William Rowley’s madhouse subplot, which is brilliantly presented … William Dudley’s set is ingenious […]. The updating of costumes and effects to Goya’s time is a more pertinent example than many of the now universal theatrical urge to anachronism. The production is let down by its two main parts. Miranda Richardson is too peachy and modern to convey Beatrice-Joanna’s quick-changing smokey obsessions, and he cannot speak Middleton’s barbed verse. De Flores is pimpled and ugly according to the text. In George Harris’s performance, he is a noble if disadvantaged black man, twice as proud as Othello […] To make him a member of a different race is to run counter to Middleton’s point. Harris acts well, but the odds are against him. Yet this is a Changeling to see.' Peter Porter,  ‘Pre-echoes and paradoxes’, Times Literary Supplement, 8 July 1988

'Dudley’s eye-catching set tends to shrink the stature of the performers, including that of Ms Richardson, whose voice, on this gloom-strewn occasion, struck me as uncharacteristically strident. But my admiration for this remarkable young actress is such that I shall charitably blame this on the theatre’s acoustics. Othello-like black actor George Harris is a physically imposing De Flores, but swallows too many of his lines. Those I did manage to catch lacked an innate sense of treachery, without which the play has no centre of gravity. [...] A stronger performance in this crucial role would have made all the difference to an evening that promised more than it delivered.' Clive Hirschhorn, ‘Hammer Horror in poetic vein’, The Sunday Express, 26 June 1988

'In this setting Miranda Richardson is perfect as Beatrice-Joanna. She appears gilded herself and her face has an incandescent quality. De Flores says she smells of amber. She looks like a piece of amber. And when she talks it is as if talking itself were a revelation […]. Throughout, there is no embrace without fear, and passion is acted with an ardour that makes you feel you have never seen an embrace on stage before. [...] But it is an evening of unequal excitement – thrills and lulls. In contrast to the barbaric world beyond, the scenes inside the madhouse seem mild and recreational in spite of the fact that the lunatics live on a grey staircase and are regularly whipped. The point is perhaps that, unlike the rest of humanity, fools and madmen are safe.' Kate Kellaway, ‘Lust conquers all’, Observer, 26 June 1988

'The grotesque, sinister qualities of romantic paintings – Goya and Piranesi – pervade the set. Phantoms from the madhouse crouch on spiralling stairways, their presence continually threatening Beatrice and De Flores. In Richard Eyre’s brilliant production The Changeling is structured like a dream, the principal characters’ puppet-like-being literally set in motion by the madhouse inmates, and the ‘madmen’ physically invading the world of ‘normality’ and overwhelming the lovers at the end.' Janet Gorman, Review, Openmind, 16 August 1988

'None of the performances in this new production of Middleton and Rowley’s bloody Jacobean tragedy deserves to be remembered – because they are either bad or banal. [...] Everything seems disastrously under-rehearsed, as if we are witnessing a read-through instead of the real thing […]. The central relationship between Miranda Richardson as the amoral, wilful Beatrice-Joanna and George Harris as her opportunist servant De Flores so lacks electricity that it could barely run a light-bulb. [...] William Dudley’s set, however, is a triumph – mixing the sacred and profane with the steps of a mad-house on each side of a Byzantine cathedral. And Eyre uses Dominic Muldowney’s mood-music to cunningly cinematic effect. The production, I’m sorry to say, dies long before the final blood-bath.' Maureen Paton, Review, Daily Express, 27 June 1988

'The case for integrated casting gets a welcome boost at the NT with Richard Eyre’s heady production which transposes this 17th Century sex and violence shocker to an early 19th Century Spanish slave colony. It is an inspired touch which makes perfect sense in the context of play and casting.' Review, City Limits, 30 June 1988

'The acting, from a cast containing a high proportion of black performers, lacks style or possibly has too many varied styles, including a portrayal of Lollio by Paul Barber as a Liverpool scally. Miranda Richardson has not quite the measure of Beatrice-Joanna, giving little indication of the evil that must have been lurking within her soul. George Harris is an impressive De Flores, though, conveying the feelings of a man whose rank has risen above his station, and Paul Jesson is an upright, honest and suitably horrified Alsemero.' Peter Hepple, ‘Designer theatre’, The Stage, 30 June 1988

'“Honest” Flores (George Harris) who has all the most trenchant lines and even, like Verdi’s Iago, a sort of Credo, takes easily to villainy whilst retaining a rugged commonsense and some feeling for principle. Beatrice (Miranda Richardson), however, wills wickedness but cannot face the consequences or acknowledge her complicity. [...] Good as their performances were, they didn’t seem to me quite big enough for the vertiginous course on which the pair had embarked. It was as though the play’s updating had diminished their stature and the steamy atmosphere they engender.' Christopher Grier, ‘New look ‘Changeling’’, The Scotsman, 25 June 1988

'In the event, the most sensual thing about the show is William Dudley’s set, a golden-arched, burnished corridor with South Pacific foliage beyond. Framed by the harsh institutional landings of the asylum, this provides powerful – not to say garish – imagery, faithfully matching the director’s ideas. But even the design isn’t carried off with quite enough flair: the actors shuffle between the contrasting environs through awkwardly fitted doors, so we can’t tell whether a statement is being signalled or a hinge has worked loose. [...] Paul Jesson etches a characteristically intelligent Alsemero, but as with David Ryall’s hangdog paterfamilias, he takes his character’s ordinariness to thrill-quenching extremes. Rebecca Pidgeon enjoys strikingly high-pitched moments as Isabella, and Julian Wadham’s Antonio is, suitably, less of a Hooray Henry than first appears. But Paul Barber tackles Lollio in disastrously laid-back style. The stern, voracious Lyttelton soaks up energy, demanding performances of piercing definition: Barber makes even the warder’s whip-cracking look desultory at times. Elsewhere, there’s much standing around in bunches and little sense of dialogue teeming from three-dimensional lives.' Jim Hiley, ‘Waterloo Sunrise’, The Listener, 7 July 1988

'Director Richard Eyre has, successfully, and highly imaginatively transposed the action to a nineteenth century Spanish Slave colony. By fixing the temporal and geographic setting in this way, he consciously highlights the interdependence of rank and money, the determination of rank by money. [...] Creative design, attention to detail (exploiting traditional connotation to full advantage) and sensitivity to detail, makes sets, lighting, costumes and sound-effects splendidly appropriate.' Review, London International, August 1988

'Apart from some déjà vu symbolic mime by the lunatics at the beginning and end, he production is gimmick-free, swift and splendidly spectacular (Alonzo is murdered at the top of the proscenium arch, from where his blood drips on to the stage). It is exciting, though not quite spell-binding, a little short on poetry an very short on pathos.' Gabriele Annan, Review, The London Theatre Visitor, August 1988 and ‘Othello in the negative’, Sunday Telegraph, 26 June 1988





List of reviews:

Michael Coveney, Review, Financial Times, 24 June 1988

Michael Billington, ‘Fateful attractions’, The Guardian, 25 June 1988

Christopher Grier, ‘New look ‘Changeling’’, The Scotsman, 25 June 1988

Charles Osborne, ‘Change for the worse’, Daily Telegraph, 25 June 1988

Gabriele Annan, Review, ‘Othello in the negative’, Sunday Telegraph, 26 June 1988 and The London Theatre Visitor, August 1988

Clive Hirschhorn, ‘Hammer Horror in poetic vein’, The Sunday Express, 26 June 1988

Kate Kellaway, ‘Lust conquers all’, Observer, 26 June 1988

John Peter, ‘Is this a breath of fresh Eyre?’, Sunday Times, 26 June 1988

Maureen Paton, Review, Daily Express, 27 June 1988

Steve Grant, Review, Time Out, 29 June 1988

Sheridan Morley, ‘Nothing ventured in Eyre’s ‘Changeling’’, International Herald Tribune, 29 June 1988

Peter Hepple, ‘Designer theatre’, The Stage, 30 June 1988

Review, City Limits, 30 June 1988

Christopher Edwards, ‘Damned Souls’, The Spectator, 2 July 1988

Jim Hiley, ‘Waterloo Sunrise’, The Listener, 7 July 1988

Betty Caplan, ‘Family Fortunes’, New Statesman and Society, 8 July 1988

Peter Porter, ‘Pre-echoes and paradoxes’, Times Literary Supplement, 8 July 1988

David Fingleton, Review, Arts Review, 15 July 1988

Janet Gorman, Review, Openmind, 16 August 1988

Alex Renton, ‘Classics poles apart’, The Illustrated London News, August 1988

Review, London International, August 1988