Ben Johnson's mastery of comedy, with, structure and more biting wit more than justifies this strong revival of The Royal Shakespeare's Production of The Alchemist at The Swan Theatre in Stratford- Upon - Avon. It is an active fast paced comedy with a dark background. The Ragtag gang have the run of a grand townhouse because the residents have left the city in fear of the Black Plague. The Butler to the residents has invited in a eccentric rogue Alchemist and a whore, and together they fleece the gullible, residents of Blackfriars claiming to be able to make their dreams come true.
Stephen Jeffreys has taken some 20% off the original text, and it's still a dense and giddy thing. The plot gets knottier and knottier as Jonson piles on con after con. But Findlay's production cuts right through this complexity. Every line shines, and every joke lands on the audience's lap. It's a production that allows the audience to relish the intricacy of Jonson's plotting and that, by setting the action in period, allows us to deduce the parallels with our own predatory times.
Mark Lockyer and Ken Nwosu (Face) work like smooth criminals as a pair of conmen.Ken Nwosu exudes cheeky charm. Ian Redford is blindingly brilliant as Sir Epicure Mammon, whose voluptuous verbal fantasies earn a round of applause. However, the Star of the show for me was Mark Lockyer, who plays an eccentric hippy player-king, preens powerfully as Subtle, the self-styled alchemist. On stage Lockyer is magical and mesmerising to watch, he performs with every shade of heart. He's intense with a magnetic stage presence. So it's a testimony to Lockyer's devastatingly powerful performance that keeps the audience excited and entranced from his opening first line " thy worst. I fart at thee" sets the tone for the following two and a half hours.
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes
At the Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon, until 6 August. Box office: 01789 403493. Then Barbican, London, from 2 September.