THEATRE REVIEW: The Alchemist starring Siobhan McSweeney

WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2

WHERE: Barbican

WHEN: 16/9, runs to 1/10

When prostitute Dol Common (the excellent Siobhan McSweeney) is winched so she is left hanging from the ceiling (picture above) it doesn’t feel out of place in this re-imagining of a comedy by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries.

  • Read on for a hint of the surprise ending that we’ve seen the RSC pull off once before

Perhaps that’s because there’s a playfulness with which director Polly Findlay realises this farce that becomes apparent as soon as the opening music tips its hat to James Bond and, we think, The A-Team.

Dol, Face (a mischievous Ken Nwosu) and Subtle (a versatile Mark Lockyer) are the crack team of con artists who make the most of the opportunity afforded them when the master of Face’s Blackfriars home flees London to avoid the Plague.


We’re very much reminded of Findlay’s recent As You Like It at the National and it’s not just because they shared the comic genius that is McSweeney. Perhaps its because there’s a crocodile swinging from the roof throughout, completely at odds with the period, but making perfect sense of Common’s climactic con.

We won’t say how this ends but we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company pull off a similar trick in Henry V and it’s a wonderful way to bring a play full circle and root what the audience has seen in the present day.

We weren’t sure what to expect from Ben Jonson’s farce but it is recreated so lovingly by its cast and given such an eccentric twist by its director that it’s well worth seeking out.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Royal Shakespeare Company. Tickets.
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