The Alchemist

Caterham Rep’s adaptation of Ben Jonson’s classic tale The Alchemist is exactly that: don’t expect any surprises here. If you know the play, then this is a nice romp through his well-known Jacobean farce, and if you don’t then you’ll certainly pick up the gist fairly quickly.

There is potential here, but perhaps their recipe for gold isn’t quite right.

Exploding onto stage from between two screens, it’s a promising start to the hour as plots begin to weave around a house whose master has departed, leaving servants Jeremy (hence known as Captain Face) and Subtle to abuse this opportunity for tricking the locals out of pocket through a variety of means.

Slick scene changes and super-fast cues keep the energy bouncing nicely from scene to scene, using live music to punctuate each episodes with a charmingly off-tune riff on the flute or ukulele.

On a nuclear level it can be quite a complicated plot to follow – disguises are adorn and discarded quite literally at the drop of a hat, and the characterisation needed to make these changes apparent is simply not strong enough. The script is littered with opportunities for comic potential that are repeatedly missed by this cast, although certainly not for lack of trying.

Enjoyable caricatures of the swaggering braggadocio Kastril and the appropriately-named Surly are played with aplomb by Josie Branson and Charlotte Cross, and our leading man William Ward carries the plot as Captain of all misadventures taking place. Amongst the whole ensemble, however, there is a tendency to swallow lines and a lack of compulsion that robbed some scenes of the energy needed to carry this fast-paced production.

Caterham Rep is a tightly-knit company that works well together to produce this new adaptation, but just as the Captain’s victims were kept waiting for gold that never appeared, I found myself hoping for a lift in projection and pizazz that did not arrive. There is potential here, but perhaps their recipe for gold isn’t quite right.

Reviews by Katie Rose

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The Blurb

A highly energetic, fast-paced jaunt through London in the year 1600 – a place of cozening, gulling, cheating and alchemy. Join Captain Face and his desperate tricksters, Dol and Subtle, in a new adaptation of Jonson's comedy; as fiercely relevant today as when first performed. The supposed alchemist, fortune teller and fairy queen con an array of gullible characters out of money, valuables, dignity and honour. Caterham Rep breathes new life into these extraordinary characters as they weave their way into a comical spiral of mayhem and madness.