So, what's Elixir about? As the title suggests, sex, drugs and alchemy are all involved: set in Renaissance Prague and based (very loosely I suspect) on a true story, Elixir follows alchemists Edward Kelly and Dr John Dee – a Blackadder/Lord Percy pairing – as they desperately try to create an Elixir of Youth for the impatient and ageing King Rudolf II. Their rivals for the King's favour are metal-nosed astronomer Tycho Brahe (Jim High) and Golem-maker Rabbi Loew (Tom Levecchia), and there's some entertaining squabbling and name-calling between the two teams.

Dr Dee (Stephen Middleton) has another problem, too: his pouting, horny young wife (Juliet Brady). Sex-starved because he must preserve his "manly essence" for alchemical ingredients, she's also locked up in a suspiciously colander-shaped chastity belt to stop her misbehaving with other men – but thanks to the cunning Kelly (writer and, according to some publicity, also director Christy Hawkins), this doesn't last long.

Hawkins and Middleton are certainly the best actors, and possibly the only professional ones, onstage (it's difficult to judge as no programme or cast biographies were available, so all information is taken from the show's Facebook page). At least they seemed to know their lines and cues, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast; words were fluffed, entrances missed and lines stepped on with cheerful abandon until I felt as if I were watching a chaotic dress rehearsal rather than a first night (and perhaps it was both). But Hawkins gives Kelly some of the mellifluous suavity of Simon Jones as Raleigh in Blackadder II, and Middleton plays Dee very convincingly as a wasted, paranoid mess grasping at straws: when it's just these two onstage, the quality of the play improves greatly.

Hawkins's script – despite the bizarre rap by Rudolf II (John Poston) towards the end – is not bad: there are some decent gags, the narrative makes comic sense, and there's an enjoyable Carry On Henry flavour to Kelly's escapades with the women of the house (Mrs Dee and servant Eliska). However, even an hour of this stuff in the tiny sweatbox theatre above the Lord Stanley pub felt pretty long, and a cut to 45 minutes could tighten the plot and edit out the lines that were being forgotten anyway.

And yet many elements of the show have clearly had time, care and attention lavished on them: the whirling symbolic projections representing the chaos of John Dee's mushroom-inspired visions are evocative and well-chosen, and the 16th-century costumes are, by and large, really good (sadly I can't give credit where it's due for either, unless stage managers Jake Pervin and Georgia May Hastie are responsible). Equally impressive is the live music on keyboard and cello provided by two uncredited female musicians sitting at the back of the stage: I would have loved to know who composed much of it, too, although I recognised the Star Wars and Pink Panther themes at various points.

Elixir is actually a good idea for a play, with an interesting premise, it's just rather half-baked in terms of script and production at the moment – a glorified scratch night, if you like. If, as the confused information available implies, directorial duties were shared between Hawkins and Logan Hillier, this may go some way to explaining the seat-of-the-pants feel of many scenes. In the end, though, like Dr Dee's homunculus (which, fed too much Homuncu-Grow, ends up terrorising the city) Elixir has the potential to grow up big and strong one day, but needs a bit more time to develop first.  

Elixir, Sex, Drugs & Alchemy, at Theatre CollectionKaty Darby's review of Elixir at Theatre Collection.3