DIDO – QUEEN OF CARTHAGE
The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 11th October, 2017
Kimberley Sykes’s new production of Christopher Marlowe’s classic romantic fantasy is, in short, a corker. This is a world where gods interfere directly with the lives of mortals – the two species are differentiated by costume: the gods in modern day dress, the humans in period costume. It can be no accident that Jupiter (the wonderful Nicholas Day) bears more than a passing resemblance to RSC Artistic Director Mr G Doran… Ellie Beaven is glamorous in a Miss Scarlet gown as the meddling Venus, and Ben Goffe is in good form as the cheeky, mischievous Cupid, pricking his victims with a syringe of Venusian blood.
As the eponymous monarch, Chipo Chung is every inch the regal ruler, albeit an accessible and hospitable one. Her attachment to the warrior Aeneas (Sandy Grierson) unleashes passionate and capricious emotions; Dido is very much in the Cleopatra vein, at the mercy of her passions – and so is everyone else. Chung is fantastic, compelling and credible in her excesses of emotion. Grierson makes a fine paramour as Aeneas – he does come across as a little bit quiet at times but his recounting of the Trojan War is a vivid and gripping piece of storytelling.
Kim Hartman does a pleasing turn as a Nurse, tricked and pricked by Cupid, and Andro Cowperthwaite is especially alluring as Jupiter’s toy boy Ganymede. Bridgitta Roy stalks around with a stick as the conniving Juno and Amber James brings intensity as Dido’s sister Anna. I also like Will Bliss’s somewhat rangy Hermes, with wings in his hair.
Mike Fletcher’s original compositions, played live by a tight ensemble, add plenty of locational colour, while Ciaran Bagnell’s versatile lighting plan brings texture and variety to the deceptively simple staging. Designer Ti Green gives the actors a stage covered in grey sand. Pristine at first, it is soon disrupted and imprinted by the footprints of all the comings and goings. It says a lot of the impermanence of life, I find, how easily our presence can be erased.
Above all, the show is a lot of fun. Heightened action, passions running at full tilt – you can see why the tale is well suited for opera – stirring emotions and more humour than you might expect.
The show contains a lesson in how refugees might be treated, as people today continue to flee for their lives from war-ravaged countries. Unfortunately, men (it’s invariably men, isn’t it?) persist in committing the atrocities Aeneas describes – but where is the divine intervention now?
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