Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Mylo McDonald, Colette O’Rourke and Jamie O’Neill: The Changeling

By | Published on Friday 29 September 2023

You probably know that we love the brand new stuff here at TW Towers, but perhaps you might not be so aware that we also love to see an old classic being revived.

So I was happy to hear that a new production of Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s Jacobean masterpiece ‘The Changeling’ – a dark, bloody and violent play – would be on at the Southwark Playhouse this month. 

It’s the work of Lazarus Theatre, is directed by Ricky Dukes and features a talented cast. To find out more about the play and the creative team behind it, I spoke to lead performers Mylo McDonald, Colette O’Rourke and Jamie O’Neill. 

CM: For those who aren’t familiar with the play, can you start by telling us what ‘The Changeling’ is all about? What story does it tell?
MM: ‘The Changeling’ tells the story of a deadly love triangle set inside a claustrophobic coastal castle in Alicanté.

At the centre of the triangle is Beatrice Joanna, a beautiful, privileged, bride-to-be. Beatrice is meant to marry a fella called Alonzo and all is going to plan, until Alsemero steps on the scene and turns her head completely.

She conspires with her servant, Deflores – a man she spends her life abusing – to dispose of Alonzo so she can be with Alsemero. She plans to reward Deflores for the murder with cold hard cash, but Deflores has other ideas…

When the deed is done, Beatrice is thrilled she can now be with the man of her dreams, but Deflores comes to collect his debt.

CO’R: Madness, deception and trickery ensues as Beatrice tries to take matters into her own hands, with the help of what lurks in the shadows.

JO’N: Thinking about it now, it actually makes me think of an incredibly sinister episode of ‘Love Island’, with the stakes dialled up to eleven and where murder is a viable pulling technique!

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
MM: The play does an amazing job exploring the gulf between our public masks and true inner natures. Appearance versus reality.

Just how far will these characters go to protect their reputation? And what skeletons are the seemingly noble ones hiding in their closets.

JO’N: I’d say, obsession, love and compulsion.

CO’R: Yes, love… and lust, madness, confinement, appearance and reality, judgement… the list goes on!

CM: It’s an old play, obviously, first staged back in 1622 – in what ways does its story have relevance for a modern audience? Would you say this production takes a modern approach to it?
MM: So many plays from this era have stood the test of time. They’re able to remain relevant amidst the changing aesthetics of society because the answers to the questions they pose are just as elusive for audiences now as they were in 1622.

We’re using modern theatre tech, there’ll be some microphones and perhaps a song or three. There’s some theatrically jazzy abstract storytelling and I’m afraid to say actors aren’t decked out in doublets and petticoats. But those expecting the production to be #relatable will be sorely disappointed.

The things these characters do would make them utter psychopaths by today’s standards – but that’s exactly why they’re so interesting.

We all have the potential to do unspeakable things, we’re lying if we say otherwise. What will it take to change us into monsters, how much pressure until the mask totally shatters?

Facing ugly truths like these force us into head-on collisions with our humanity. This is what makes plays like ‘The Changeling’ eternally relevant, and – hopefully – riveting watches for audiences.

CO’R: I think that the themes in early modern drama are always transferable – love, lust, chastity, tragedy, revenge.

There are plenty of moral issues within ‘The Changeling’ that I think the audience will be challenged by as modern viewers. The numerous asides to the audience throughout make them complicit in the characters’ actions.

JO’N: I’m sure everyone will have felt the urge to or have been forced to do something pretty extreme to change the trajectory of their life, and this story propels itself forward with these decisions continuously being made.

I think anyone who feels like the world they’re living in isn’t giving them a fair shake will also find themselves rooting for a few of the characters in ‘The Changeling’.

CM: Can you tell us about the roles you play and why you wanted to play them? Why do you like them?
CO’R: Beatrice Joanna is very much at the mercy of the society around her – she has zero agency as to the course of her life and as a consequence takes things into her own hands. She is impulsive and reactionary, and it is a very interesting challenge for an actor to map that journey.

JO’N: I play Deflores. As soon as I read ‘The Changeling’, I became very excited about exploring his trajectory through the play. Despite the circumstances he finds himself in, he’s an optimist and he never gives up, these are great strengths but equally prove to be very dangerous.

MM: I play Alsemero, a nobleman from Valencia! There are many ‘Changelings’ in the play, but I was especially intrigued by Alsemero’s change. He’s a romantic, a stoic, a man of principles and ideals. His public mask is robust. I therefore found his descent particularly surprising and thrilling.

He’s got skeletons, cracks in his armour galore, and with each read I discovered more of them. Not to mention he’s also got a dirty little secret in the form of a pretty creepy pastime. I had lots of questions about Alsemero I couldn’t answer, so I had to play him.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the cast?
CO’R: It’s a really great group, they have been open and up for it since the beginning. In an ensemble you become very affected by the temperaments and dynamics of everyone around you, this cast have been a positive, energetic bunch, and it makes it a much easier process.

JO’N: We have a brilliant ensemble of actors all with unique perspectives and experiences that feed our telling of this play – it’s always a great feeling when you walk in on the first day of rehearsals and you find yourself in a committed and generous team.

MM: And we’ve all gelled so well during the process. There’s a fair few cast members who’ve worked with Lazarus Theatre before. This is my first Lazarus show and everyone’s made me feel very welcome.

The central triangle in the play is made up of Alsemero, Beatrice and Deflores, so I’ve worked closely with Collette and Jamie from the start. They are both terrific actors who bring bags of playfulness, intelligence, and intensity to the room.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the whole cast, they each make up an indispensable part of this ensemble.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your director and his approach to the play?
MM: Ricky Dukes has been fantastic to work with. His approach to the play has been intensely detailed and forensic. He’s created a method, a shared language and way of mining the text that everyone follows.

Whilst the methodical process of uncovering deeper layers in the words ticks along gradually, Ricky encourages actors to go all in and touch the extremities of a scene, a line, a word, as early in rehearsals as possible.

I’m a firm believer in this outside-in approach too, coming to know the core of a thing by first touching its periphery.

His approach takes the edge off actors to create characters, instead allowing them to form as natural by-products from collective revelations and truthful engagement with Middleton and Rowley’s brilliant words.

To ‘distil’ has been a word that has come up a lot in rehearsal. I think this word cuts right to the core of Ricky’s interpretation of the play and the theatrical world audiences are going to enter.

CO’R: It’s a very collaborative approach and Ricky instils in us that everything we need is in the text – the stage directions, details about the characters, how to communicate effectively.

A lot of time is also dedicated to building the ensemble – whether that’s group warm-ups, finding the heartbeat of the cast, or games of Chaos, no one day is the same.

J’ON: Ricky is all about respecting and honouring what Middleton and Rowley have given us in the script and getting rid of the baggage and assumptions that can be rife.

As Mylo said, the word we keep coming back to is distillation, and there’s great strength and energy to be found once you’ve boiled down what’s in front of you and discovered a very specific essence.

CM: And can you tell us a bit more about yourselves – how did you come to be working in the arts and how did your careers begin?
J’ON: I’ve always loved performance and acting and that led me to drama school.

MM: I was always involved in school plays since I was five or six years old and spent most weekends in the local youth theatre. Performing always kept me out of trouble and I was much more welcome on a stage than in a classroom, I found.

After several attempts, I gained a place at The Royal Conservatoire Of Scotland, where I completed my training in 2021. It was the height of the pandemic, so I couldn’t have picked a more unpredictable moment to begin a notoriously unpredictable career if I’d tried.

However, shortly before graduating, I was incredibly lucky to be discovered by producer Joshua Andrews, who cast me in my first ever professional acting role in one of his UK touring shows. The tour lasted eleven months.

Emerging headfirst into the industry in the height of a global pandemic and finding my feet on the road for the better part of a year’s run seems like a wild way to begin a career now I think about it! Though I wouldn’t change a thing.

CO’R: I have always wanted to be an actor, I can remember being drawn to it at a very young age. I finally went to drama school at 21 and my first job was with Lazarus! Strangely enough, early modern text was really not my favourite while studying and training, but I’ve ended up doing a fair bit of it!

CM: What have been the highlights of your work thus far?
MM: Touring the UK was a highlight for me. I’m only two years into my career and I’m so grateful that already my work has allowed me to explore more of this amazing country than I ever imagined.

A big highlight was going on as a cover too. Don’t get me wrong, it was terrifying, but afterwards I felt very proud, like I’d gone through some sort of rite of passage.

And of course, getting the call from my agent telling me I’d booked the job to play Alsemero was wonderful, as was the rehearsal process that followed.

I’ve been very lucky to have been a part of a few intense, forensic, exhausting rehearsal periods so far. These types of processes are where I feel most at home and alive. They’re precious gems when they come along.

This will be my first substantial run in a London theatre, a dream I’ve had for years. I’m thrilled to be performing somewhere as fantastic as The Southwark Playhouse, with its rich history of putting on such terrific work.

Stepping foot in the building knowing I will be performing there soon was my most recent highlight.

CO’R: Playing Henry V in Lazarus’s all female version was a real highlight – getting to play such a famous and typically masculine role was such a treat.

Also, the production of ‘Barnbow Canaries’ at Leeds Playhouse will always be a huge high point. It was the theatre I grew up going to, so getting to perform there in a play about the local people for the local people, with the most incredible team, was the best of times.

JO’N: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to take on some really challenging roles throughout my career and the lessons they teach you about the craft and also life itself are extremely rewarding.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
MM: I want to be the best actor I can possibly be. I’d love to have the opportunity to continue to take on roles that baffle and challenge me. And I want to work with as many artists as possible that inspire me and force me to up my game. I have a list of dream collaborators –  Mark Rylance is at the top!

Above all, I love my job and I love theatre audiences, so my goal is simply to do my job as well and as often as possible and to give audiences my best every time I step on stage. Life is too short and theatre tickets are expensive.

CO’R: In terms of classical text, Lady Macbeth – perhaps predictably…! – has always been an aim of mine. Other than that, just fun, interesting projects that challenge and push me as an actor.

JO’N: I want to keep getting better and better at what I do and continue taking on the best stories and roles that I can.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
MM: A restful week off with my partner celebrating our anniversary. Then straight into rehearsals for Contemporary Ritual Theatre’s debut production of ‘SALT’.

It’s a visceral new play by an amazing writer, Beau Hopkins, pioneering a brand new theatrical form I had the honour of helping to develop earlier this year. If successful in our funding bid, London and East Anglian audiences can expect to catch ‘SALT’ in December this year. Can’t wait.

CO’R: Agree – a rest…! It has been an intense process so far and a full-on role, so definitely a wee bit of down time will be nice. I also got married in between rehearsals and tech… So, a priority is probably to spend some time with my neglected new husband!

JO’N: I’ll be filming next, which is always a nice gear change after having been on stage, I really enjoy switching between the two.

‘The Changeling’ is on at Southwark Playhouse until 28 Oct. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.  

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Photo: Charles Flint 

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