Thursday, 16 April 2015

Theatre review: Dido, Queen of Carthage

The Swanamaker continues to troll Shakespeare's ghost by creating its own version of the Boy Players he disliked. For their second annual production The Globe Young Players take on Christopher Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage, with a lot of familiar faces returning from last year's The Malcontent (although some of the faces are slightly higher up, having grown a bit. Teenagers will do that if you're not careful.) Aeneas (Guy Amos) leads a fleet of Trojan soldiers who've managed to escape the wreckage of Troy, with a mission to resettle in Italy, only to be shipwrecked off the coast of Libya. The Carthaginians were sympathetic to the Trojan cause so they meet with a warm reception, but Aeneas' mother is the goddess Venus (Tamla Tutankhamun,) so just to be sure she gets Cupid (Benjamin Clarke) to make Queen Dido (Jasmine Jones) fall madly in love with her son.

Of course, this means she won't be too keen on Aeneas performing his other sacred duty, of leaving her to create a new Troy, and things will inevitably end in tragedy. But as is often the case in the Swanamaker, and with this young company, a lighter tone persists over Marlowe's wordy play (with its characters' tendency to break into Latin every so often to check if everyone's paying attention.) Again the actors' ability is pretty varied, but in the title role Jones is excellent - in the interval people around me were gushing about her stage presence, and she's a very clear, natural speaker of Marlowe's verse. Ben Lynn also steals most of his scenes as a particularly petulant Iarbus, Dido's rejected suitor.

Outside of its main gimmick of a teenage company, Jacqui Somerville's production doesn't have a huge sense of unique identity - I could have done with a few more tongue-in-cheek references to the half-modern-dress, half-classical staging, like the appearance of a Hello! magazine on papyrus, documenting Dido's army of disappointing ex-suitors. But it's a clear and enjoyable telling of what was a fairly ambitious choice, given how in this early play Marlowe favours long speeches over action.

Dido, Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe is booking in repertory until the 18th of April at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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