The Belgrade’s new version of Ben Johnson’s bawdy Renaissance comedy has enough bottom pinching to cause a public outcry.
The 16th century satire about the exploits of three con artists – Subtle, Face and prostitute Doll Common – has been updated and moved to modern-day Coventry, with dozens of local references thrown in.
The Alchemist opens with Subtle bending over and farting at Face – a violent argument ensues over the division of money as Doll lies reclined on a red settee.
The vigour of their fight sees a black gauze curtain, separating audience and stage, ripped down.
The trio proceed to rip-off a series of customers including Dapper, a female law clerk with a gambling habit subjected to humiliating rituals so the Queen of Fairies will help her, gagged and hidden in a privy; to the pimp-like businessman Sir Epicure Mammon looking for the philosopher’s stone and sexual fulfilment with Doll.
An excellent eight-strong cast do their foremost to make a difficult play accessible but it was, at times, hard to follow.
Part of the problem may have been due to the staging. The B2 set had been designed so the audience face each other on opposite sides with a long stage in the middle.
From where I was sitting it was sometime not possible to hear or see clearly what was happening, as when Subtle was drawing a sign for the tobacconist, Drugger.
At 1hr 40minutes the first half did feel too long and several members of the audience did not return after the interval.
But there are some incredibly funny moments, as when Coventry actor Barrett Robertson walks in dressed as a Spaniard with a fake beard, and great energy from Kolade Agboke as Sir Epicure Mammon, Tom Peters as Subtle and Andrew Harrison as Face.
- The show runs for 2 hours and 55 minutes, including interval. It is on until February 22. Tickets and details are available at the Belgrade website .