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Dido, Queen of Carthage, Greenwich Theatre

Christopher Marlowe

Directed by Ricky Dukes
★★★
Pros: The puppetry was wonderfully executed and gave the play a strong sense of ingenuity.
Cons: A lot of long speeches were delivered standing on the spot, so it was easy to lose interest after a little while.
Our Verdict: A bold depiction of Marlowe’s tragedy holding an enticing taste of creative originality which, with a more visually stimulating set and pattern of movement, could well be fulfilled.
Courtesy of Lazarus Theatre Company
Lazarus Theatre Company describe their current run of Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage alongside his contemporary Shakespeare’s King Lear as “Two of the greatest plays ever written in one epic rep.” Being a big lover of Shakespeare, his tragedies in particular, I was quick to agree with at least half of this statement. As I had never seen Marlowe performed before this production, however, I was sceptical as to whether the work of the alleged spy could send me away with the same literary buzz as the work of our Bard. I was pleased, though perhaps not surprised, to discover the absolute beauty of Marlowe’s language streaming effortlessly through the entirety of this short play. For their part, Lazarus Theatre Company took this beautiful play and put their usual unique spin on it.
The production was bold from the outset, with a barricade of umbrellas being whisked away to reveal an intense and graphic depiction of love from Jupiter and Ganymede. The opening scene was well-paced and very entertaining; Harper James as Ganymede was particularly fun to watch, giving a wonderfully camp and effeminate portrayal of Jupiter’s “mistress”. Other impressive performances came from Gemma Beaton as Anna, who was consistent with her characterisation throughout and nearly gave me a heart attack with her devastatingly heart- wrenching scream upon witnessing her sister’s suicide in the play’s closing moments. Similarly, Robin Holden’s depiction of the jealous, slightly ridiculous suitor of Dido came as somewhat a surprise to me as, just a couple of months ago, I watched him own the title role of Oedipus at the Blue Elephant Theatre with such a frightening level of intensity that I didn’t recognise him at all in this new role. The vast difference between these two performances is extremely impressive, and he encompassed the character of Iarbus with a whole new aura of characterisation and charisma.
Originality is my favourite aspect of Lazarus Theatre Company’s work. In Dido, swords were replaced by umbrellas, an homage to the turning point in the middle of the play where Dido and Aeneas retreat from the rain into a cave and swear themselves to each other. Everything was kept refreshingly basic with a predominantly bare stage . Aside from the chairs Dido uses to build her own pyre, the only prop of note was the puppet used to represent Ascanius. The wooden-look puppet was expertly operated by varying members of the cast to great effect. It took all of ten seconds to forget about Ascanius’s operators and begin to marvel about the lifelike movements of the small boy. The production used no music other than that created by the cast themselves humming a hymn-like melody at numerous points throughout. In moments of conflict, these melodies morphed into a brilliant cacophony of dissonance which marked the friction between the worlds of mortals and gods.
The simplicity of the production was, however, also its biggest weakness. While his work is beautiful, Marlowe’s blank verse was dense and at times difficult to follow for large amounts of time; I had to concentrate immensely in order to keep track of the action. The play features many long speeches which, without the aid of interesting props or much movement from those delivering or receiving the speech, soon became tedious to follow. While the previously mentioned actors gave admirable portrayals of their parts, the overall effect from the cast was one of disconnection from the text and the psyches of Marlowe’s characters. The acting itself was not weak, but rather not as in touch with the complexities of the play as perhaps was needed. This being said, my first encounter with Christopher Marlowe was by no means a disappointing one. Lazarus Theatre Company’s Ricky Dukes is bold with his directional decisions and the enthusiasm of his cast is consistently palpable. I’m still very much a Shakespearean fanatic, but won’t be crossing Marlowe off my list any time soon.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Dido, Queen of Carthage runs at the Greenwich Theatre until 1st June 2013.

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