BWW Review: Stratford's THE ALCHEMIST is a Riot!

If you are looking for a good laugh, 17th Century-style, then look no further than this season's production of Ben Jonson's THE ALCHEMIST, currently on stage at the Stratford Festival's Tom Patterson theatre. What a riot! This production, directed by Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino, had the audience in hysterics. The phenomenal cast committed fully to the hijinks, the costuming was spectacular, the stage and set was used very well, and the choice of music used to open each Act allowed for the play to feel fresh and new. All in all, this play was a great success.

THE ALCHEMIST tells the story of how a butler named Face (Jonathan Goad), an alchemist named Subtle, (Stephen Ouimette), and Dol Common, a prostitute, played by Brigit Wilson-devise a plot to deceive some unwitting simpletons, gluttons, and zealots into believing that Subtle's alleged ability to predict the future and turn base metal into gold, will make them all rich. The three manage to fleece several characters throughout the play, to hilarious effect. Goad, Ouimette, and Wilson are a hilarious team. All three sink their teeth into the juicy, deceptive roles that they play, and their interactions with each other, and their 'victims' are simply hilarious. A perfect elixir of clever wit and physical comedy allows for an enjoyable experience for all.

Currently playing Hamlet on the Festival's main stage (also directed by Cimolino), Mr. Goad has the opportunity to do something completely different, yet equally as engaging, as Jeremy Face. At times he gleefully bounds about the stage, facilitating frauds as 'Captain Face', only to promptly change his disguise and become 'Ulen Spiegel' a hunchback servant. He appears to be having a joyous time, and in turn, as an audience, so are we. Similarly, Mr. Ouimette and Ms. Wilson are absolutely perfect in the roles of Subtle and Dol.

There were several other standouts in this production, which honestly seemed to be cast perfectly. Scott Wentworth hilariously struts about the stage as Epicure Mammon. His golden, bejeweled, and...very 'round' costume deserved its own curtain call, but it was Mr. Wentworth's charming and funny performance that truly brought the laughter. Jamie Mac nails it as a loveable buffoon, as Kastrill; Steve Ross is an audience favourite, (as always) in the role of Abel Drugger; and Wayne Best appears to have so much fun in his role as Surly, that it should almost be illegal! He at first, seems to be the only character to see through the conmen (and woman). He is skeptical of their practices and keen on revealing their lies. His way of doing this, however, is by dressing as a stereotypical Spaniard (a la Don Quixote), speaking in Spanish-esque gibberish, and clicking a pair of musical spoons as he walks. His plan does not quite work out, but it is oh-so-fun to watch!

The set design by Carolyn M. Smith is very effective in immersing the audience into the world of the play. Most of the play takes place in the home of Lovewit (David Collins)-which Face is supposed to be watching over. At one point, the scene switches from inside the front entrance to the home, to right outside the front entrance. This quick set change was incredibly believable and impressive. This is also the moment when the audience first meets the rest of the ensemble cast, who portray 'the neighbours'. This ensemble has a limited role in the play, however they work well as a mob-like unit---almost a single character. They are very effectively utilized in this way.

As alluded to in my description of Mr. Wentworth's costume, the costuming in this production was absolutely fantastic. Certainly my favourite costumes on any stage this season. What makes them even better, is that the fabulous costumes do not overshadow the actors who wear them. Everyone brings their A game, and the costumes just enrich it!

This was my first time seeing THE ALCHEMIST performed on stage, and it was simply delightful I encourage other theatregoers to make sure they experience it for themselves!

THE ALCHEMIST continues in repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until October 3rd.

Photo Credit: David Hou

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From This Author Lauren Gienow