Review – Elixir

To the always intriguing The Space theatre in London’s Docklands for this tale of two English magicians – Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley – who find themselves employed in Prague in 1583 by Emperor Rudolph II with instructions to make/discover the elixir of youth. They are assisted, somewhat, by the doctor’s wife Jane and servant Eliska. Their rivals at court, who set out to undermine them in the eyes of the Emperor, are an astronomer and a Rabbi who have convinced the Emperor that they’ve made a Golem – by the simple subterfuge of disguising their servant Rachel.

The whole thing starts ominously enough with imposing Alex Robertson as Dr John Dee chanting incantations by the light of a single candle. He is interrupted by noises off, the lights come up and we are then introduced to a succession of ever more bizarre and outlandish characters. Whilst Dr Dee firmly believes in magic his alchemist assistant is far more open to playing on peoples’ credulity if the magic doesn’t appear to be working. Their two rivals at court (Christie Hawkins – who also wrote the piece – as the astronomer and Jamie Huxley as the rabbi) have long since decided that it’s best to impress the Emperor rather than risk upsetting him (and end up being executed) so always ensure a favourable outcome to their experiments by faking the results.

At this point we meet the Emperor himself, introduced by his fool who is played with great style by Johnny Orr who, the programme tells us, has only just completed his A-levels. The Emperor allows for  a wildly eccentric and physical performance by Oliver Gully, a cross between Richard III and Leonard Rossiter’s Rigsby – and we change up a gear. From now on anything goes as the Emperor loses his patience and gives our two heroes until the next day to come up with the promised elixir of youth. The elixir is duly produced using some, shall we say highly personal ingredients, produced by the Doctor’s assistant, alchemist Edward Kelley – a hugely impressive professional debut by Daniel Richardson who looks good and acts and reacts with precision and confidence.

The whole thing becomes like a lost episode of Blackadder II – with Doctor Dee and his cohorts having to impress their monarch in order to avoid execution. A word too, at this point, about the costumes, (costume designer Lukas Smid) which really contribute to the sense of character and time.

My only minor gripe is that the various accents deployed can at times make it a little hard to hear every word clearly until you’re properly tuned in. But it’s real laugh out loud stuff with everyone giving their all, whether playing it straight or going where no actor has gone before. I still think Nigel Harman’s turn as Lord Farquar in Shrek the Musical is the funniest thing I’ve seen on stage, but Oliver Gully’s Emperor runs him a close second.

Elixir is at The Space until 26 August.


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