The Alchemist

By Ben Jonson
At the RSC
The Alchemist
Twenty years ago I had the happy pleasure of experiencing the Belvoir Street Theatre (a fabulously talented Sydney based theatre company), interpretation of this hilarious treat. And double bonus to such (and thank you so much Jess South), I was sitting front row and was in the presence of two insanely talented actors – Hugo Weaving and Geoffrey Rush – delivering this extraordinary tale of con with a huge helping of play and chemistry. So naturally that evening and the play have stayed with me…will kind of…

So, I remembered the intimacy of the space; the way the actors bounced off each other and clearly relished sharing the script; and the wit; but what I didn’t recall was the actual events – so luckily six nights ago, I had a refresher.

From the musicians who start off the wackiness and confusion and hilarity through to the final bows, this show is crazy-silly-funny and delights. Often I see theatre which is serious and sometimes dark, so it was a great change just to laugh along with the satire.

Additionally, the casting’s great and Team Family were overjoyed to play, ‘I know him, wasn’t he the husband in Queen Anne’ and golly I could go on, I mean the RSC’s really gifted at identifying and hiring the very best actors working now.

The action places itself in 1610, when the plague is reaping havoc across London and the opportunity to take advantage arises. Jeremy’s Master’s left town and he, with two other less than trustworthy types, start trading in the not so honest and taking advantage of the gullible whom arrive at their door. Among them are, the merry and saucy Sir Epicure Mammon looking to turn his pots and pans into gold and pick up a little love along the way; two Dutch Protestants whom you know are slippery and played so particularly well; a gambler with bad teeth; a tobacconist with the cups not just half full, but going to overflow in a couple of moments expression; and a very amusing brother and sister combination.

It’s all jolly good fun and on in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 6 August, then transfers to the Barbican.