Dominic Dromgoole's production of The Changeling in the Sam Wanamaker theatre has the same power and intimacy as his version of The Duchess of Malfi a year ago. It's a robust, though fairly traditional interpretation which keeps in the madhouse scenes -- a subplot which some directors prefer to omit. The boundary between sanity and insanity remains clearly demarcated, and there is no suggestion that the line between the two might be porous.
Trystan Gravelle dominates the play as De Flores, the murderer who despatches Beatrice-Joanna's intended husband at her behest. Like Mark Rylance playing Richard III, Gravelle isn't scared of turning evil into comedy without diluting the essence of the role. Unfortunately Hattie Morahan, excellent actress though she is, seems miscast as Beatrice-Joanna. I caught her loathing for De Flores, but not the smouldering sexual feelings she has for him. And I could not imagine her murdering anyone.
The real interest for me is in seeing the Middleton/Rowley play come to life in the right surroundings. It's a play in which the relationship between actors and audience is more important than between the characters on stage. For those who follow Stanislavski and like their plays to respect the fourth wall, the key element of drama will always lie in the relationships the actors create between each other. If, like me, you think the most important relationship is what happens between stage and audience, then this play exemplifies it.
One of the key scenes in which the audience gets to understand the love-hate relationship between Beatrice-Joanna and De Flores is at the start of Act 2. The two characters barely speak to each other, and nothing much of substance happens to move the plot along; De Flores tells her that her husband-to-be Alonzo is 'new alighted' and her father wants to speak with her. Beatrice-Joanna is exaggeratedly hostile to De Flores ('Thou standing toad-pool!) while he soaks up the punishment ('I'll stand this storm of hail though the stones pelt me'). The real meat of the scene is in the lengthy asides; Beatrice-Joanna, having mused beforehand about her new love for Alsemero, confesses to the audience that 'This ominous, ill-faced fellow (De Flores) more disturbs me/Than all my other passions'. In other words, her outward hostility masks a desire for her ugly servant that she can barely acknowledge to herself, but which is unmistakable for the audience. De Flores has two lengthy speeches to the audience, in which he confesses that he will find any small excuse to see Beatrice-Joanna 'some twenty times a day'. The humiliation she dishes out to him makes him enjoy himself all the more. Of course, many playwrights use dramatic irony to ensure the audience knows more about what is going on than the characters on stage; Shakespeare does it all the time, but he more frequently uses a third or fourth character as the repository of secrets and self-delusional speeches (Beatrice and Benedick are good examples of this).
What is distinctive to me about The Changeling is the way Middleton and Rowley put the 'aside' speeches to the audience right at the centre of the scene, rather than making them mere parentheses. I'm sure there are learned Shakespearean scholars out there who have written exhaustively on asides and soliloquies, but there's no substitute for experiencing it in the theatre, sitting just a few feet away from the candle-lit actors. This is a play about being in the dark; with the exception of De Flores, most of the characters barely have a clue what is really going on, even the ones who are ostensibly engaged in subterfuge (Antonio pretending to be a fool). We seem to understand Beatrice-Joanna far better than she does herself, especially when she tries to disguise her loss of virginity by organising the 'bed-trick' on her new husband Alsemero.
Dromgoole's version of the play succeeds because he understands the strengths of both the play and the theatre, and he isn't afraid to puncture the fourth wall. I much prefer his version to that of Joe Hill-Gibbins at the Young Vic in 2012, though I still vividly remember Will Keen as De Flores and Olivia Williams as Beatrice-Joanna in a Declan Donnellan production of the play a few years earlier.