Arts Review: The Alchemist

4th – 19th October 2019, Tron Theatre

Book Online

The first thing you notice as you walk into the auditorium at the Tron Theatre is the set. Elaborate and intricate in its gaudy design, the stage has been transformed to reflect a story of Renaissance England and, so it is the perfect setting for this modern adaptation of Ben Jonson’s classic play. 

The Alchemist, directed by Andy Arnold, tells the story of a trio of con-artists; butler Face and his friends Subtle and Doll, who set about deluding gullible clients with the idea that they can help them solve their problems using alchemy. The main stumbling block with this con however – if you can get over the fact that these opportunists are literally stealing money from their clients – is that the operation is based in Face’s master’s house, whilst he is away.

In a departure from the original, playwright Gary McNair’s version has transported this hilarious tale from Jonson’s original setting of London to Glasgow, bringing it into the 21st century with many of the jokes and references including a mention of the cosmetic company Avon. Although he remains faithful to Jonson’s humorous language, keeping the rhyming couplets – which produce some hilarious pairings – it is noticeably unique in how it draws on local phrases. 

With a cast of only six, this adaptation skilfully conflates many of the characters, taking some of the funniest traits of the most memorable, and overexaggerating them, emphasising both the absurdity of the situation and the flaws they suffer from. 

Two of the most enjoyable interpretations of these characters are Sir Epicure Mammon (played by Jo Freer), a knight, who thinks ‘philosopher’s stone’ will make him attractive to women, and Dapper (Robert Jack), who hopes Subtle (Grant O’Rourke) will help him improve at gambling.  

Disguise is key to the way this production works, and much of the hilarity for the audience comes from watching Face (Louise McCarthy), switch between her sea-captain, alchemist’s assistant and aristocratic lady outfits. As the plot develops, and Face and Subtle get further caught up in the charade, with more frivolous clients, it gets harder to tell which character is on stage, perhaps highlighting a greater theme about identity, because not one person on that stage is completely happy.

For newcomers to Jonson and for fans alike, this latest offering does not disappoint. Hilarious from start to finish, this version challenges the audience to think about vanity and greed as well as the dangers of folly. With its interesting twists and new interpretations, this play will have you laughing all the way through.

Tickets: Tue-Thu + Sat Matinee: £15 (£11) | Fri-Sat: £17 (£13)

[Perpetual Brade – she/her]

[Photo Credit: John Connolly/Jamhot]

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