You may wonder who would be foolhardy enough to establish a new production company in this gloomy age of austerity, when painful reductions in arts funding are cutting a swathe through our bohemian pleasures. But, founding members of Let Them Call it Mischief, Danny Wainwright, Flo Buckeridge, Stephanie Hampton and Tessa Gillett, have something of the swagger of Jonson’s principle characters when it comes to rising to a challenge.
Experienced members of London’s fringe theatre, with combined experience at hot-ticket venues such as the Theatre de Complicite, the Barbican and the Theatre Royal Stratford East, the four Londoner’s felt there was something missing from the theatrical landscape. While London is filled with incredible and diverse young theatre companies, all making a wide range of wonderfully creative work, there is no young company solely dedicated to reviving the theatrical works that were inspired and defined by their location: London, points out Tessa. There are so many great plays that can tell us so much about where our city has come from and we want to get them seen again, as close to their original venues or locations as possible.
The canny selection of The Alchemist, Ben Jonson’s most enduring dramatic work, with its promise of fool’s gold, eternal life and sexual prowess, proves a perfect launch piece and Kennington’s White Bear Theatre is its natural venue. First performed in 1610 by the King’s Men at The Theatre in nearby Blackfriars – just 34 years after the first permanent public theatre opened in London – The Alchemist is one of Jonson’s great satires, and a rollicking good ride to boot.
When gentleman Lovewit (Robert Rowe) is forced to flee his London home for fear of the plague, his butler Face (Danny Wainwright), and fellow conman Subtle (Ed Cartwright), set up shop in his house and lure a succession of fools and fops to part with their cash, household pewter and goods in exchange for promises of eternal life, the philosopher’s stone and heady sexual conquests, ably aided by feisty tart-with-a-heart, Dol (Stephanie Hampton).
At first glance, the trickery seems ludicrous – although In the post-Global financial crisis world we’re all familiar with, strangely plausible – and Jonson’s script is wordy and dense, but the young cast’s delivery is deft and surprisingly accessible to the modern sense of humour. The dreaming and scheming and period repartee, so ably handled by Wainwright and Cartwright, recall comedy classics like Laurel & Hardy, Abott & Costello and magical conmen, Penn & Teller.
As Director, Danny Wainwright points out, You don’t have to be an English student or history buff to enjoy these plays. Anyone who lives in and loves this city as much as we do will love them! We want to re-awaken people to their importance, and the fun that is within them. That’s what we hope people will take away with them.
Despite very limited resources (the set consists solely of a back screen with various hatches and compartments), the performances shine and the comedy builds to a pleasing hilarity, making for loud guffaws at the posturing of the preening Mammon (Andrew Venning) and the dramatic entrance of the preposterous, Spanish Don (James McGregor) and… his cod-piece.
In a world where we’ve all been fool’s for gold, Let Them Call it Mischief, have struck gold with The Alchemist. Tessa concludes, It is such a brilliant play – full of trickery and laughs, and it’s been so much fun to put together. And it shows…
You can catch it at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington until 14th April.
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