The Young Vic’s slogan is “It’s a big world in here”. It’s a changing world, too. This most adaptable of venues wrong foots you with every visit. It’s quite simply a different environment for every show, a place where the experience begins from the moment the friendly usher directs you down a dimly lit corridor to make your entrance. “You could try a wheelchair’, said mine, who happened to be a finalist from last year’s Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year where I “chair” the jury. Perhaps a little too participatory, I thought, as I looked for free seats for me and my guest. The bleachers behind the mesh netting (sinister) were pretty full; the enclosed crude plywood grandstand (claustrophobic) would get us closer to the action. A warning came against the front row where a huge mattress was apparently to be the scene of bestial food sex involving jellies and trifles – some fall-out was possible. There was plainly method in the madness.
And madness was what we were there to witness in Joe Hill-Gibbins’ deeply discomforting and voyeuristic staging of Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling – an unsettling play which attempts to draw parallels between the collapse of reason in love and sex and the cruelty of bedlam where the so-called “sane” come to gloat for amusement over those whose reason is driven by other passions. The Bedlam subtext of The Changeling can, I’m told, effect a sense of two separate plays jostling for attention. For my first experience of the play in the theatre, Hill-Gibbins has made the two strands horribly, disturbingly, inseparable. Doublings in the brilliant cast iradicate all doubt that the inmates and outmates are one and the same in this theatre of the cruel and absurd and lustful where we the audience are not just passive observers but complicit participants. Maybe I should have taken that wheelchair after all.
Is the Young Vic the most exciting theatre in London? On the strength of recent visits – yes.