Beautiful theatre, Shakespearian in its grandeur... the actors are quite simply phenomenalLe Figaro
Surely one of the greatest plays about ungovernable lust and human frailty ever written, and rarely done with such clarity or purpose as in Declan Donnellan's production, which incorporates the mad scenes into the central plot to unprecedented effect.The Independent
This is a star performance. The place should be packed.The Sunday Times
A deliciously excessive gory gloryThe Sunday Telegrgaph

Produced by Cheek by Jowl in a co-production with BITE:06 Barbican; Les Gémeaux/Sceaux/Scène Nationale; Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg.

Find out more by visiting the entry for this production in our archive

In order of speaking

Tom HiddlestonAlsemero
Jotham AnnanJasperino
Olivia WilliamsBeatrice-Joanna
Jennifer KiddDiaphanta
David CollingsVermandero
Will KeenDe Flores
Jim HooperAlibius
Tobias BeerLollio
Philip McGinleyPedro/Franciscus
Phil CheadleAntonio
Laurence SpellmanAlonzo
Clifford SamuelTomazo
Jodie McNeeIsabella

DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
Associate & Movement DirectorJane Gibson
Lighting DesignerJudith Greenwood
MusicCatherine Jayes
CastingSiobhan Bracke
Technical DirectorSimon Bourne
CostumesAngie Burns
Production PhotographerKeith Pattison
SurtitlesHarold Manning
Assistant DirectorOwen Horsley
Fight DirectorTerry King
Sound DesignerGregory Clarke
Company ManagerMark Simpson
Technical Stage ManagerDougie Wilson
Deputy Stage ManagerClare Loxley
Assistant Stage ManagerMartha Mamo
Wardrobe ManagerVic Cree


4 stars
If Strindberg had been a Jacobean, this is the sort of play he?d have written. Its ingredients are social resentment, lust spiced up by revulsion, love that never has a chance, black, gruesome humour and insanity. The Jacobeans were fascinated by madness. The word 'changeling' meant idiot; also a fickle person, unpredictable, a waverer. Take that to an extreme and you get insanity. This is why the play's subplot is set in an asylum: it's both a parody of the main plot and a grotesque variation on it. Declan Donnellan's modern-dress Cheek by Jowl production is set under and behind the Barbican stage, with precipitously steep seating: a bare, dark, cavernous space, ideal for nightmares. Donnellan reveals the play's power by ignoring its baroque flamboyance.

The action is swift and fatal, like the characters. Olivia Williams's Beatrice-Joanna is an imperious, fastidious virgin, a changeling of femininity who dabbles in lust and murder. De Flores is usually played as a brooding, ugly hunk exuding sexuality. Will Keen makes him another changeling, tight-lipped and tight-suited. The fierce sexual desire of a nervous, needy man is really shocking: both pitiable and ugly. This is a star performance. The place should be packed. John Peter, Sunday Times. 21 May 2006
The Changeling is one of the first plays to show the unconscious running rampant. Everything normally kept under wraps bursts into action in Middleton and Rowley's wild and chaotic Jacobean drama, which features loathing turning to passion, two murders, the substitution of a maidservant for her mistress on her wedding night and a subplot set in a lunatic asylum.

No company could make this so clear, without losing any of the murk, than Cheek by Jowl, founded 25 years ago by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod. They forcefully show that every play - even one as dripping with verbal riches as The Changeling - makes its effects through movement as well as speech. For this drama of the unconscious, everything is turned inside out. The backstage area becomes the performing space: wide, black and cavernous, and carved up by Judith Greenwood's extraordinary lighting, which traps characters - for ever talking to themselves - in separate pools of light.

Will Keen isn't made to look as hideous as the text requires (he's just in need of pimple-aid) but he's a wonderfully plausible De Flores because he's so slippery: as he glides and gloats, his elongated vowels sound first sinister, then insinuating, and finally rather sexy. Olivia Williams isn't his equal as Beatrice-Joanna - she starts off too full-on and so doesn't do what the play demands: change.

Nothing can make the mad scenes funny, but Donnellan comes as near as anyone could to make them seem one with the main action: he doubles roles between the two plots and in one fine frenzy gets all the characters to join hands for a desperate lunatic jig. It looks like a dance of death. Susannah Clapp, The Observer. 21 May 2006

Bordering madness and sanity

Few plays pit lust and madness together so powerfully as Thomas Middleton and William Rowley's dark 1622 study f sexual obsession. The comic subplot, in which the asylum keeper's wife Isabella is seduced by an inmate pretending to be mad, has always offered an ironic comment on that of the main story - set in the sane world of the court, where Beatrice Joanna betrothed to Alonzo but in love with Alsemero, is driven mad by her lust for the pockmarked, murderous De Flores.

Declan Donnellan's ingenious approach for his latest Cheek By Jowl production is to conflate the two plots by having the same actors perform in both. The effect is to instantly illuminate a perilous world in which the boundaries separating the mad from the sane are marked by the most fragile of threads.

Donnellan opens up the back of the Barbican's cavernous stage yet brings the audience right up close to the action in an effective juxtaposition of intimacy and expanse. With no set, and the props extending only to red chairs, the emphasis is firmly on the actors.

Will Keen's embittered De Flores, who offers to bump off Alonzo so that Beatrice can marry Alsemero, is both pragmatic sadist, breaking off the finger of the dead Alonzo with mechanical relish, and indulgent fantasist, genuinely believing Olivia William's Beatrice will marry him instead.

Yet Donnellan illuminates the play's parallel undercurrents with his characteristic clarity and lucidity, bringing both worlds together in an unhinged wedding dance tableau, and staying constantly alert to the play's inverted vocabulary, in which an act of murder resembles that of intercourse and where intercourse in the end becomes an act of death. Claire Allfree, The Metro. 17 May 2006
4 stars
Madness, as much as passion, spins the plot in Middleton and Rowley's dark Jacobean masterpiece. And the supreme virtue of Declan Donnellan's Cheek by Jowl production is that the two qualities are virtually inseparable: love and lunacy join hands in a production marked by unity of purpose and what one character calls "shivering sweat".

The playing space itself is the bleakly functional Barbican backstage area. But we are instantly transported into an Alicante church when the black-suited ensemble turn their plastic chairs into prayer-stands. And the spatial grouping brilliantly illustrates the ensuing tragedy. Beatrice Joanna, the unstable heroine, is confronted by a male triangle consisting of her intended husband, Alonzo, her ardent admirer, Alsemero, and the pockmarked servant, De Flores, to whom she will end in erotic thrall. Indeed, by sanctioning De Flores's murder of Alonzo she famously becomes "the deed's creature".

The perennial problem lies in reconciling this grim tragedy with the comic subplot in which a madhouse keeper's wife is assailed by counterfeit lunatics. But Donnellan solves this at a stroke by turning the actors in the main story into the asylum inmates. Instantly we realise that Beatrice Joanna and her suitors are themselves close to madness. The heroine is a frenzied neurotic insanely attracted to the loathed De Flores. Alsemero, who she weds, keeps a well-stocked library of sex manuals. Even De Flores, though assuming a sardonic rationalism, cuts off dead men's fingers with gratuitously savage relish.

What might seem an intellectual conceit is made manifest by the fine acting. The great central scene between Beatrice Joanna and De Flores is here barely distinguishable from the madhouse interludes. Olivia Williams's wonderfully tortured heroine seems both pitiable and absurd in believing that she can satisfy her hired killer with her cheque book. And Will Keen's excellent De Flores suggests a besuited functionary demonically possessed by lust and violence. Using the space to great effect, he pursues his quarry like a bestial hunter.

For once the subplot scenes echo everything in the central story. Jim Hooper's asylum keeper seems positively dotty in his belief that he can keep Jodie McNee's raunchy young wife under lock and key, and Phil Cheadle and Philip McGinley as her pursuers respectively resemble a joke Hamlet and a pseudo Oscar Wilde. But the great moment comes when the inhabitants of both worlds join forces in a wild wedding dance that links love and madness, and suggests there is scarcely a cigarette-paper between them. Michael Billington, The Guardian (Online Edition). 16 May 2006
Cheek by Jowl has been dazzling theatre festivals for 25 years now. As it moves into its new home at the Barbican, its founders tell Dominic Cavendish how it all began

Declan Donnellan can remember the moment Cheek by Jowl was born. In fact, he can still remember the exact expression on his partner Nick Ormerod's face when, seated at the kitchen table of their south London flat, after discussing what to call their new theatre company long into the small hours, "he suddenly announced the name. He did so with an air of quite remarkable authority for his tender years. I've never forgotten that decisive look."

A quarter of a century, 28 productions and a heap of awards later, the durability of that moniker, its far-sighted aptness, and its talismanic properties couldn't be more apparent. Cheek by Jowl isn't just still going strong, it's stronger than ever - in demand at home, where a three-year residency at the Barbican Centre begins this month, and abroad, where every international festival worth its salt wants a piece of it. Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph (Online Edition). 8 May 2006
As he likes it

Declan Donnellan's Cheek by Jowl ensemble returns to London with The Changeling, marking a significant step-change in his, and British theatre's, development

For a man who neither trained as an actor nor attended drama school, Declan Donnellan exhibits a surprisingly intuitive interest in the art of performing. For him, directing means supervising the quality of acting in an ensemble and not, as is more usually the case in British and European theatre, "interpretation".

"I've always felt that the scene is something that happens in the space between the actors," he says with passion. "That's why a third eye is needed, and you don't want that third eye to belong to one of the actors as it did before 'the director' was invented as a job in modern times. Directors exist so that actors enjoy the luxury of not having to monitor themselves."

Donnellan, a Manchester-born London Irishman whose parents hailed from County Roscommon, has a knack for making abstract theatrical theory sound quite reasonable. Indeed, any drama student would learn a lot from studying his reissued book, The Actor and the Target, which reads like a sustained - and very entertaining - rehearsal note to a bunch of interested show-offs. Joseph Fiennes says the book "equips the actor with keys to unlock the fear and flab of acting".

With his regular stage designer and domestic partner Nick Ormerod (they met at Cambridge reading law and were both called to the bar), Donnellan founded Cheek by Jowl in 1981 as a flexible touring company specialising in rare classics - the English premieres of Racine's Andromache and Corneille's Le Cid were early triumphs.

Their style was fast but not loose, hale but not hearty: Pericles in blue tracksuits with two casks as scenery; Twelfth Night as a nightclub reverie with saxophones and "I Did It My Way" ("a camp shambles", said the Independent); Donnellan's Roscommon ante-cedents celebrated in the wonderful tale of Lady Betty, the local jail's hangwoman, which he wrote and directed as a macabre ceilidh; and the all-male, ground-shifting As You Like It, with Adrian Lester as Rosalind, a show that finally stole the RSC's stuttering international thunder.

In the 1990s, he was an associate director at Richard Eyre's National, where his most notable productions were a stompingly vivid version of Lope de Vega's Fuente Ovejuna - possibly the least known most famous play in the world; the premiere of Tony Kushner's millennial Aids masterpiece, Angels in America; and a definitive chamber production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. By the end of that decade, he and Ormerod had pounded the West End route with Cameron Mackintosh's production of Martin Guerre, a musical that refused to be wrestled to ground in a coherent form, and discovered their more prophetic niche in the Russian theatre.

A chance meeting in Helsinki with Lev Dodin, artistic director of the Maly Theatre in St Petersburg, led to extraord-inary work in Russia with the Maly, the Confederation of Russian Theatres in Moscow (Donnellan's productions, including an overwhelming "traverse" staging of Pushkin's Boris Godunov that visited the Brighton Festival four years ago, are dubbed "Cheek by Jowlski"), and the Bolshoi, where his radically non-classical, "theatrical" Romeo and Juliet was loved by the Moscow critics and loathed by their British counterparts.

At 52, he stands on the brink of a fourth career mixing Cheek by Jowl, British arts institutions and Russia. The main thrust of his work is launching a three-year Cheek by Jowl season at the Barbican in London in May with a revival of Middleton and Rowley's Jacobean shocker The Changeling followed by his Russian all-male production of Twelfth Night, with his astounding Boris Godunov, Alexander Feklistov, playing Toby Belch. He and Ormerod recently adapted Great Expectations for the Royal Shakespeare Company's seasonal show in Stratford-upon-Avon.

On my bookshelves, he has spotted a Catholic Truth Society "revised" copy of the Bible, an edition he recalls from his schooldays at St Benedict's, Ealing. He says he was fortunate in his teachers, one of whom, his English master, Philip Lawrence, subsequently a headmaster, was tragically murdered a few years ago. "He was only a few years older than me and we went to the theatre together quite a lot after I left school. He was absolutely the best sort of teacher, I suppose, like the Richard Griffiths character in The History Boys, except he wasn't gay and didn't ride a motorbike."

As a boy, Donnellan enjoyed watching the Whitehall farces on television. "I was intrigued by the artifice of that curtain going up and down. And then, when I directed a fringe production of 'Tis Pity She's A Whore in 1980, I suddenly felt this is what I could do; it was a detail of mise-en-scéne, and I remember that afternoon quite clearly. Everything started falling into place when I came across a quotation in Spinoza to the effect that we should treat the classics with all the respect we give the contemporary.

"Another reason I love working in theatre is the verse thing. I love poetry but I've never had the knack of sitting down and reading it on my own. I've done it, for exams at school and so on, but I felt peculiar doing it. I love being 'present' with poetry, and one great thing about being a director is that you can spend the whole day unselfconsciously doing that."

Donnellan is no longer religious in the denominational sense of the word, but there is something of the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski's "Holy Theatre" cult about him, the idea of theatre being a sacramental art where the collusion of actor and audience will spark an event that, rooted in a celebration of shared humanity, might always carry the potential of divinity.

"Whatever else love is, it's always to do with paying attention. When we assemble in a space, in a theatre, and pay attention to something, that forgetting of ourselves . . . it's hard to express . . . but we all experience it. In the theatre, we tend to watch ordinary people in extraordinary situations when the stakes are high. We feel with them, and that's an awful lot, a whole group of us doing that."

How have Donnellan's Russian experiences shaped his attitude to the theatre? "Well, I certainly felt that I was going home when I went there." He speaks Russian badly, but that is no bar to the emotional and intellectual camaraderie he has found there. He is not sure about Stanislavsky, though, whose My Life in Art is still a key text in theatre lore. "Unfortunately, Stanislavsky got adopted by the Soviets and this mindless, literalist mode for real eggs, a real fire, and so on. Then it all got further ruined by the Americans with their Method, which removes the idea of acting completely from the idea of an ensemble and turns it into . . ." - Donnellan crouches into himself and part coughs and giggles through his statement - "the private secret which I am not going to show to anybody . . . the capitalist view!" He then dissolves in total mirth at his own conclusion of Stanislavsky being wrecked by the two superpowers for different reasons.

When Cheek by Jowl started - the name comes from the face-off between Lysander and Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream, exiting in rivalrous fury, "Nay, I'll go with thee, cheek by jowl" - British theatre was enduring a period of tension between its institutions and upstart talent. The fringe groups of Cheek, Deborah Warner's Kick Theatre, Mike Alfreds' Shared Experience, Simon McBurney's Complicité and a host of others were the obvious future the National and RSC were ignoring.

Donnellan, Warner and the rest had no real interest in taking the big jobs. "Well, we just had our own way of doing things. We have worked, Deborah [Warner] and I in a large institution, and that's fine - sometimes it's less fine - but you have less control over all sorts of things, like where the show actually goes. And we've always been terribly pragmatic, Nick and I. We find a play we want to do, then a group of actors we want to do it with, then a space to do it in."

The Barbican's auditorium will lose about a third of its capacity as the stage is built over the seats. One wonders why the RSC didn't come up with such a plan before it pulled out of London. One has only to think of Donnellan's Boris Godunov, played on a raised, bare platform the size of two tennis courts with a Shakespearian sweep and passion to realise what might have been and what indeed Donnellan and Ormerod may at last provide this year.

What of the future? "I just hope," says Donnellan, "that there is a continuing respect for the process of acting in British theatre and that people will understand why a six-week rehearsal process is so different from, and so much to be preferred to, a three-week period. If you look at Dodin's work, there is such an authenticity about a monk walking very slowly across a stage. Time and thought and openness have all gone into that. It may be a difference not noticed by the audience. But, believe me, there is a difference." Michael Coveney, Guardian Unlimited. 4 February 2006

Olivia Williams, Tom Hiddleston and Will Keen talk about their roles in the Changeling

Members of THE CHANGELING cast, Tom Hiddleston (Alsemero), Olivia Williams (Beatrice Joanna) and Will Keen (De Flores) talk in Madrid about reaching the end of the tour.

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(3.2Mb) Published: Mon, 31 Jul 2006 208:48:56 GMT

Interview with Olivia Williams

Dominic Cavendish, Theatre Critic from the Telegraph interviews Olivia Williams who plays Beatrice-Joanna in Cheek By Jowl's The Changeling.

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Interview with Tom Hiddleston and Will Kean

Dominic Cavendish interviews Tom Hiddleston (Alsemero) and Will Kean (De Flores) from Cheek By Jowls The Changeling.

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(4.75Mb) Published: Wed, 08 Mar 2006 20:52:01 GMT

Interview with Declan Donnellan

Dominic Cavendish interviews Cheek By Jowl's Joint Artistic Director and Director of The Changeling Declan Donnellan

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(6Mb) Published: Thu, 09 Mar 2006 08:30:51 GMT