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The Changeling @ Young Vic

iPhone asylum meets 80s sex club as Young Vic triumph again with Joe Hill-Gibbins' insane re-purposing of an already insane classic.


Not to be confused with that Angelina Jolie movie of the same name, The Changeling is a Jacobean tragedy from the 1620s written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Not to patronise you, but that means it was performed in the times of King James, Britain's most high profile gay monarch. This throws interesting light onto a play that explores the definition of madness and the cult of "other".

Set in Alicante there are two plots. There is the story of Beatrice-Joanna, a governor's daughter who persuades a doting servant to kill off the man she is due to marry. But as BJ finds out - "Murder I see is followed by more sins." Then there is Alibius, the owner of a mental asylum that he profits off by allowing the public to observe patients as a form of freakshow-style entertainment. Alibius is paranoid that various men are trying to steal his wife Isabella, unaware that his main patient is actually faking his mental condition in order to fuck her behind his back.

A main theme running through The Changeling is that all of us are either mad or foolish. The audience sit inside wooden crate-like spectator booths or are positioned behind a netted-off fence similar to that of a football cage. Some audience members are to sit in wheelchairs that align the front row.

Sinead Matthews (Pride And Prejudice, The Boat That Rocked) is great as Beatrice-Joanna, a creepy and spoilt virgin bride who has a complex and passionate hatred for her obsessive servant De Flores. A relationship that tugs on BJ's vanity, exploits her naivety and becomes its own obsession. I overheard more than one audience member comparing Matthews' performance to that of Lady Gaga, perhaps a fitting heroine to channel for the role?

A real highlight was the wedding scene in which the entire cast break into a Beyonce dance routine – that had school trips in the circle breaking into fits of laughter. Although in danger of being too cheesy and misread by the audience, the scene slowing released a deadpan and deadly parody of matrimony in all its pointless glory. The audience's laughter really brought in a sense of Jacobean drama too, in which the mind is opened through laughter and then injected with opinion.

Without giving away the plot, The Changeling showcases some really powerful and disturbing sex scenes too, that are carried out in the form of slow motion food fights, all set to a backdrop of cheesy 80s chart hits, the sort you'd hear at a town hall wedding bash.

The star who really steals the show is Eleanor Matsuura (pictured) in the part of Isabella. The sexually harassed and freakishly desperate wife of Alibius, with a crass leopard print mini dress stretched across impossibly big fake tits, Matsuura really commands the audience with Isabella's lines and excells far beyond the gimmicks of her garish costume. Both haunting and amusing, she captures beautifully Isabella's blood-mix of stupidity and cunning. Somehow fusing Frankenstein's monster with a modern-day Page 3 Girl, Matsuura's Isabella is a character who will stick in the mind for a long time.

The Changeling runs until December 22nd and is well worth going to see. The tragedy is performed in one uninterrupted sitting of 110 minutes. Although quite slow and challenging at the start the show evolves gradually into a riotous and busy ensemble of hard-hitting imagery and fast-paced slapstick with original surprises waiting around every corner as the dual plot twists itself grudgingly into its tragic ending.

Don't miss this opportunity to see a vivid, modern and entertaining rendition of a really quite mad play from some 400 years ago.

4 stars

Words: Jack Cullen

The Changeling runs until the 22nd of December. Visit the Young Vic box office to buy tickets or ring 020 7922 2922

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