Writer: Ben Johnson
Director: Paul Burbridge
Reviewer: Nicole Evans
Written in the 17th century, The Alchemist is a satirical account of the perception of alchemical ideas and the abuse of them by opportunist con-men. Preying on the weaknesses of local citizens, a trio of undesirable criminals sets out to earn their fortune by offering a range of alternative services and accepting riches in return for their deception.
An intriguingly arranged stage runs down the middle of the audience and as we are seated we find a transparent mesh- printed version of ourselves staring back at us. This is removed a short way in to the play and behind it is a simple set consisting of a few chairs, a red sofa and a couple of tables. With all the activities taking place in one room the props remain relatively unchanged throughout and with only a narrow width to work with the actors’ movements are limited and the play relies mostly on its script.
One of the selling points of the play is its modernisation not only to 21st century life, but also to local Coventry life. Unfortunately the decision to use modern characters and technology yet keep the Shakespearean prose just doesn’t work and leaves us confused at times and the inclusion of local area names and businesses seem too randomly placed. The local references have the desired effect of raising a few laughs and giving us a connection to the play but end up being the only thing that keeps the audience going. It says something when the highlight of the evening’s performance (and the part that raises the most laughs) is when an oblivious audience member mistakes the stage door for the exit when heading out for a bathroom break. A quick glance around the room is enough to tell this opinion is not just my own, with a few audience members choosing to browse their phones and a couple having fallen asleep, it is clear people have lost all interest in the lack of goings on on stage.
Act two picks up ever so slightly but a good quarter of the audience aren’t aware of this having chosen to go home during the interval and the rest of us are left clock watching while the last hour drags on. A dramatic explosion wakes us all up momentarily and a ten minute section of ridiculous antics shows us some of the fun we had hoped to see throughout, but it is too little too late and doesn’t go much of the way to regaining the audience’s interest.
The downfall of this play can certainly not be blamed on the actors. Despite losing their crowd early on they do their best to remain professional throughout and their talents feel somewhat wasted. Andrew Harrison, who is quite literally the ‘Face’ of the production, and Tom Peters as Subtle make a good team and in different rôles would be quite the double act. Kolade Agboke provides a brilliantly over-enthusiastic performance as wealthy businessman Sir Epicure Mammon and his performance is captivating, even if the part he is playing isn’t.
Having been sold on the exciting sounding synopsis there were high hopes for this production of The Alchemist, sadly it fails to live up to the expectations of the ‘fresh adaptation’ we were promised.
It is certainly a bit of a farce, but perhaps not in the way that was intended.
Photo: Robert Day | Runs until February 22nd.