Pros: Incredibly strong individual performances, strengthened even further by an on point ensemble.
Cons: The actors’ process is prioritised over audience pleasure.
Tamburlaine the Great is a pretty mammoth task to undertake, even if it were simply just taken from page to stage in one fell swoop. With Lazarus Theatre Company’s promise to reinvent the classics for contemporary audiences, it’s a task that holds a huge amount of risk, a risk that could culminate somewhere between butchering a masterpiece and over gilding a lily. In truth, Lazarus do a little bit of both without once breaking their promise of offering a new telling of a classic to a modern audience.
Tamburlaine the Great is a big old play, a blockbuster of its era that is crammed with action, tragedy, love, violence and everything in between. All of which has to be packed into the small, but perfectly formed, studio at Tristan Bates, on the doorstep of the West End. Lazarus, manage to do that and more, including adding into the mix elements of movement and stylisation. As an ensemble, they couldn’t be any tighter, moving as one, fighting as one, pledging their allegiance through costume and seamlessly multi-rolling. Individual performances are incredibly strong. This is particularly true of Tamburlaine himself, as well as Prince Plockey who controls and works his character impeccably, matching the sadism of how his character controls those around him. With each of these elements, Lazarus well and truly hammer home the point of their reimagined version, but the question is, does this classic benefit from being reimagined?
It’s a bit of a dichotomy. First off, it’s incredible that a story that was historical even to Marlowe, has transcended generation after generation. Marlowe’s version has been ‘reimagined’ countless times and necessarily so in order to re-establish its relevance. Doubtlessly, Lazarus brings that story back to life, injecting it, through ensemble, into the black box space and minimal set. The huge amount of process that the company has undergone to make it happen is evident. Their portrayal of power and corruption seeps out of every scene. However the process seems to outweigh the narrative and the core entertainment value.
In reimagining Tamburlaine the Great, Lazarus have somehow overlooked the simple telling of the story. Agreeably, the original is probably too long for a contemporary audience, but the way in which the company have halved of the running time sees them cut out multiple important factors. Namely the empathetic plot points that depict Tamburlaine as a man, a father, a human as apposed to simply a ruthless killer. We also don’t get to experience the much needed light relief segments. In hurling harrowing scene after harrowing scene at the audience, narrative becomes slow and laboured. By the end you’re in need of a stiff drink to stop the shakes and to try to rebuild some faith in humanity. On a more basic level, I think that one of the main factors as to why a contemporary audience struggles to engage with historical plays such as this is because of the evolution of our language. Marlowe is difficult enough to follow already, never mind once the synchronicity of the plot is jeopardised.
Author: Christopher Marlowe.
Adapted by: Ricky Dukes and Gavin Harrington-Odedra
Director: Ricky Dukes and Gavin Harrington-Odedra
Producer: Lazarus Theatre Company
Booking Until: 12 September 2015
Box Office: 020 7240 6283
Booking Link: http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/tamburlaine-the-great