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The Changeling
Published on Tuesday, 10 August 2010

3 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
15 Aug, 11:30am (12:30pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

A mournfully haunting chant opens The Changeling, a flawed but thought-provoking exploration of the power of companionship and sacrifice.  In a city on the brink of chaos, two strangers are forced together: one who’s lost his job and his sweetheart, and another who’ll soon lose his very life.  As the world they know crumbles around them, their new-found friendship offers the last vestige of hope.  Bernard, perhaps, can save the dying Fred – but at what cost to his own chance of salvation?

There’s a lot to admire about The Changling.  The opening scene is slick and immediately arresting, with an authoritative narrator deftly producing prop after prop as he rattles through the story of Bernard’s early life.  There are a host of clever, witty details – look out for the suitcase which turns into a bed – and the music, produced live on stage, is wonderfully evocative (for all that it sometimes drowns out the words).

The energy levels swing around a bit, with a few scenes feeling languid in contrast to their high-octane neighbours, but the balance between action and reflection is mainly well-judged.  And the script was pretty decent too, with some genuinely touching dialogue between the two new-found friends.  The bar-room philosophy of the closing scenes is rather laid on with a shovel… but the overall themes of selflessness and belonging are ones which will resonate with us all.

With the deepest regret, though, I have to say that it’s all undermined by a poorly-chosen milieu.  At heart it’s such a simple set-up – Bernard’s an outcast, Fred’s near to death – and there’s no shortage of realistic scenarios which would have fit the bill.  But instead, the characters’ predicaments are justified by complex science-fiction back-stories, which stretch credibility to the very limit and are never fully explored. In a 45-minute play, there just isn’t time to communicate that much futuristic weirdness; they could perhaps take on one big concept, but not two or three.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing fundamentally bad here, and I’m glad I tucked The Changeling into the start of my Festival day.  If I’m disappointed, it’s because I saw flashes of brilliance – and some five-star talent struggling to escape from the tangled mesh of the plot.  But never mind; the play’s still worth seeing, and this is a young company.  I hope they’ll be back with a new work next year, and I’ll be right at the head of the box office queue.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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