Jenny Eastop’s revival of Ben Jonson’s satire, The Alchemist, is energetic and fast paced with a cast who give justice to the comedic moments. The text has an ongoing relevance and is a 17th century version of the get-rich-quick schemes of today and explores the themes of greed and gullibility. The action takes place at a house in Blackfriars during an outbreak of the plague. Lovewit (Clark Alexander), a wealthy gentleman who owns said house flees to the country to escape the plague, leaving his house in the not-so-trustful hands of his butler, Face (Peter Wicks). Along with his accomplices Subtle aka The Alchemist (Benjamin Garrison) and Doll Common (Beth Eyre), they think up a scheme to get the wealthy to give them their cash. Using the house as their venue they end up fooling the customers into thinking that they have discovered a way to turn metal into gold. In order to accomplish this they have to get into some disguises, which is where the comedy comes from.
Jonson’s text is ironic and snappy; definitely writing that deserves the acclaim it gets. The language is difficult to understand at times, but the actors tackle it with vigour and specificity, making it accessible to a modern audience.
Spanning only a mere 90 minutes, without an interval this production speeds forward like a locomotive with Peter Wicks, who shines as Face, in the driving seat. The criminal trio play well together. Benjamin Garrison is hilarious as Subtle. Beth Eyre plays the comedy well, particularly in the scene where she is disguised as a compliant, well-mannered lady and being courted by Sir Epicure Mammon (Jeremy Booth).
The set is intimate with three different entrances for the actors to run in from, which works well for a farce. Behind the staging are the remains of the Tudor theatre, which adds an eeriness to the venue. The choice of music was fun, as the sounds of dubstep and ‘Earthquake’ by Labrinth were thrown in to accompany the transitions between scenes. The production is not without its flaws, but it’s an honest production without the frills of bigger productions and is a great way to be introduced to Jonson’s work.
Running until: 30th June
Director and Producer: Jenny Eastop
More information and booking: mercuriustheatre.co.uk