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Culture, Theatre

The Alchemist, Creation Theatre

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Puncturing self-importance, whether in high society or high culture, is something Creation Theatre have been doing for years. Doing away with the ponderous, dense aura of mystification we-the-masses, ascribe to anything ‘olden’. From Shakespeare to Lewis Carroll, texts become newly relevant – in fact, you might even say they have the knack of turning old to gold, which leads us on to The Alchemist.

Written by Ben Jonson, the Alchemist was first performed by the Kings Men in 1610. The plot follows two conmen taking advantage of an empty house in Blackfriars, left vacant by a rich owner who has escaped the plague by relocating to his country house. Whilst in possession, the devious pair along with Doll Common, set about tricking a stream of visitors to the house, taking on a multiplicity of roles each cleverly calculated to yield riches from their unknowing dupes.

Staging this in post-covid 2023 is a stroke of Creation genius. The upper foyer of The Mathematical Institute was brightly lit throughout, all the better for the audience to marvel at the company’s ingenious use of the space and also to become part of the play, at times being asked to hang on to various props, budge up to let an actor sit, or even at one point to ‘nutshell’ the plot. The production was further enhanced by the brilliant use of costume, not only as signifiers of which characters were on stage at any given time, but in aiding the contemporisation of Johnson’s 400 plus year-old play.

The cast was pared down to five members and each attacked their part (or in some cases parts) with gusto. Nicholas Osmond as ‘alchemist,’ Subtle/Officer made the most of his dark hauteur – and perhaps a passing resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. Herb Cuanalo’s ‘Face’ was more languid, a beta to his sometime friend and partner in crime. Claire Redmond switched between humble Drugger and haughty Lovewit with ease, and Emily Woodward elevated Dol to a dynamic third in a trio of scoundrels. In the experienced hands of Clive Duncan a procession of prospective patsies were made gloriously believable.

The Alchemist is a classic farce, featuring all the usual elements of confused identity, horseplay and general joyous buffoonery. This modern-day reinvention is perfectly silly, crude, chaotic and completely hilarious.

The Alchemist is on at the Mathematical Institute, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG until 21 October and at the VO Gallery in Conduit Street, London W1 from 27-29 October. Creation Theatre are extending the opportunity to watch with 48 hours of on demand streaming from 10 November.

For further details and to book, visit creationtheatre.co.uk

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