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The Alchemist review at Rose Bankside London

A metronome marks time ominously amid the chaos of scattered papers filled with mysterious symbols. There is a definite hint of necromancy at work in the dusky candle-light when suddenly Jonson’s comedy bursts into life. Director Jeremy Smith delivers a rambunctious treatment of this timeless play and while the energy and enthusiasm are to be praised some clarity is lost, particularly in this frenzied opening.

Eventually the rhythm settles and by the arrival of Tim Fordyce’s deliciously observed Mammon, the unfolding of the various deceits is fun to watch. There are some less flamboyant, though no less enjoyable performances from Tom Worsley as Dapper and AJ MacGillivray as Drugger, characters whom Jonson satirises with searing accuracy. Jerome Thompson as Face and James Burgess as Subtle make a good team, negotiating the farcical elements of the con with ease. Eleanor Russo as the aptly-named Dol Common exudes all the ebullience of a Jacobean whore to great effect and is juxtaposed nicely here by Safron Beck’s unsurprisingly pliable Dame Pliant.

While the setting is atmospheric, Pam Tait’s costumes pitched vaguely in the late 19th century are at best tolerable and at worst a shoddy distraction. Although there might be little room for subtly in Jonson’s play, some of the comedy in Smith’s production seems layered onto the original. The frenzy of the physical may engender laughter but there are moments where comic lines are thrown away either unrecognised or simply as an artistic choice.

Production Information

Rose, Bankside, London, June 6-30

Ben Jonson
Jeremy Smith
House on the Hill Productions
Jerome Thompson, James Burgess, Eleanor Russo, Tom Worsley, AJ MacGillivray, Tim Fordyce, Edward Walters, Paul Valentine, Safron Beck, Shawn McCrory
Running time
1hr 35mins