The Alchemist – February 2007

5/10

By: Paul Coelho, adapted by ???

Directed by: Dominic Knutton

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 27th February 2007

This was a bit of a disappointment. I haven’t read the book, but the opening set up looked promising. A couple of the actors, in costume, were selling programmes inside the auditorium. The programmes consisted of a plastic bag, containing a piece of paper with production information, some sand, a pebble, and a chocolate (bagsy the chocolate!). The other three actors were on stage. I think only one was playing the music, while the rest sat and listened. The stage itself had a large round mat in the middle – a story-telling circle. On it were some large reddish coloured blocks. Outside the circle were instruments and various impedimenta of the production. At the back I could see poles and wires, with small bundles of coloured cloth in various places. It looked like these would be raised up to create a backdrop, and indeed they were. There were three streamers in the middle, and two on each side, which were raised at different times to create different effects. The actors wore basic tops and trousers, except for the woman who was actually playing a woman – the other actress was playing the boy at the heart of the story. Headdresses were added as needed, and I particularly liked the sheep’s heads that most of them wore at the start.

The story is simple – a boy herding sheep has a recurring dream. I lost track of what he was actually dreaming about. One the one hand he seems to see a beautiful woman, and on the other, it’s a child who takes him off to the pyramids to find buried treasure. Anyway, he sets off in search of the treasure, while keeping an eye open for the woman. He has various adventures, arrives at the pyramids, and unravels the mystery, presumably ending up wealthy and with the love of his life, although this adaptation ends with finding the treasure.

Firstly, we found it difficult to ignore some massive coughing coming from our right in the early stages. It was so loud, that I briefly thought it might be part of the performance. Secondly, the delivery from a couple of the actors was on the weak side. The Connaught isn’t a large theatre, and we were seated in row G, yet I lost about half of the dialogue through lack of projection. I felt the production was designed for smaller auditoria – studio spaces perhaps, or theatre in the round. Thirdly, the blocks in the circle sometimes became a distraction, as the actors moved them around to create various settings. Normally, I love this kind of thing, but here it seemed very dull, lacking in imagination, and noisy enough to add to my hearing difficulties. Finally, the story itself seemed a bit simplistic and lacklustre, and I didn’t feel as engaged with it as I would have liked.

On the good side (and there has to be good side, or I wouldn’t have given it 5/10), I did like the music (more of that, please), the use of the cloth streamers at the back, the excellent sheep at the start, and the use of mime throughout to avoid perilous props, e.g. crystal glasses. I perked up when one of the characters is revealed to be Melchizedik, especially as he seemed to have uncanny knowledge of the young lad and his search. The effects with the wind, desert and the hawks were excellent, so perhaps all this production needs is time to bed down. We did see it on the opening night in Worthing; I don’t know how many other performances they’ve done. The actors are certainly talented enough, so good luck to them.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me