Review: The Alchemist, Tron Theatre

Photo: John Johnston

Gary McNair has crafted something unforgettable here: a batshit crazy, psychedelic satire on the desperation of poor people forced into scamming for money. It is uproarious, but with a serious seam of hurt and anger poking through. Ben Jonson’s original humour is but a dim and distant memory. Led by the frenetic pairing of Louise McCarthy and Grant O’ Rourke as con artists Face and Subtle, the aesthetic may be pure ‘Mr Benn’, but it’s haunted by the ghost of Tony Benn.


Charlotte Lane’s set is a hippy dream, with ‘Rowan and Martin’ style portholes from which actors’ heads pop out, and the retro chic is a symbol of authenticity as a sideswipe at hipsterdom and urban gentrification. Oguz Kaplangi’s score invokes Swinging London, even though the patter is pure Glasgow all the way.

Neshla Caplan, Stephen Clyde, Jo Freer and in particular a brilliantly campy Robert Jack, portray various miscreants along the way, but the delirious action of the first half calms down into the second, as though the lysergic sugar cube wore off, only to be replaced by truth pills.

McNair revisits previous thematic concerns here: identity, bullying, working-class survival, and a fuckload of swearing. Good to hear the return of ‘cockwomble’ and a ‘He- Man’ reference, too. He just couldn’t resist. It’s not a bummer, though, in spite of its scathing satire. McNair has enough smart wordplay and twists to keep it “all too beautiful”, even when the gold the characters seek is simply revealed to be metal.

Tron Theatre Glasgow, until 19th October.


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