The Alchemist (4 stars)

The Alchemist

credit: John Johnston

A glittering and goofy farcical offering from Gary McNair

A Jacobean farce in rhyming Glaswegian patter: Ben Jonson's seventeenth-century comedy has received a thoroughly Scottish rewrite by Gary McNair. As with any newly-adapted classic (albeit one that hasn't received much attention in recent years), the question is whether the new script is able to preserve the essence of the original while giving it a fresh lick of paint, or whether the cracks will still show through.

The plot sees a pair of bickering tricksters (Louise McCarthy and Grant O'Rourke) swindling the gullible and the rich by promising to create for them a philosophers stone and grant their wishes through 'the faerie queen' (McCarthy in what looks like a wedding dress festooned with fairy lights and Christmas baubles). Lies pile upon lies, disguises upon disguises, and the 6-person cast perform a whole host of zany and buffoonish characters.

McCarthy and O'Rourke bounce off each other perfectly; O'Rourke as a boastful egotist is frequently brought back to earth by McCarthy as a scathing and scheming side-kick. The cast deliver solid performances, though Neshla Caplan (who plays an anxious coffee shop owner in search of guidance) may be said to come off as slightly robotic compared. Highlights among the jam-packed character list are Robert Jack's sultry and drawling Dame Pliant and Stephen Clyde's impeccable Matt Berry impersonation as Lord Lovewit.

In spite of the (intentionally) convoluted plot, the animated performances and Andy Arnold's slick direction make it easy to follow. At times it gets carried away with its own eccentricities (occasionally a character will sing 'Sweet Adeline' and the portraits will sling open to reveal a face singing along, a wacky touch that slightly over-eggs the pudding). Even so, Arnold's playful vision inserts just enough sincerity for the audience to become invested in the crooked protagonists.

McNair's script is the star of the show; the sharp rhymes and affectionately colloquial lingo flow naturally through the dialogue. The plot has aged marvellously and is a refreshing reminder that farce comedy needn't be cheap or overacted to be funny. It can be classy and still occasionally crass. The design can be sumptuous and still have costumes that look like they were put together from a collection of car-boot sale left-overs. The joys and quirks are too numerous to list; such is the daft delight that is The Alchemist.

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 19 Oct.

The Alchemist

Gary McNair re-imagines Ben Jonson's Jacobean comedy about rogues and tricksters and gives it a Caledonian twist in this theatrical adaptation.

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