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?
Yass, Queen! Chipo Chung as Dido (Photo: Topher Mc Grillis (c) RSC)
Leave a comment | tags: Amber James, Andro Cowperthwaite, Ben Goffe, Bridgitta Roy, Christopher Marlowe, Ciaran Bagnall, Dido Queen of Carthage, Ellie Beaven, Kim Hartman, Kimberley Sykes, Mike Fletcher, Nicholas Day, review, RSC, Sandy Grierson, Stratford upon Avon, Swan Theatre, Ti Green | posted in Theatre Review
The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 22nd June, 2017
Oscar Wilde’s one-act tragedy is far from a particular favourite of mine. I prefer his epigrammatic, frothy word play to the heightened, florid language of this retelling of the Biblical story, where the characters speak mainly in similes and declamations. How refreshing it is when Herodias proclaims, “The moon is like the moon!” – as fed up with the poetic spouting as I am!
Owen Horsley’s production has a decidedly ‘gay’ aesthetic. Herod’s guards could be bouncers in a fetish club (I imagine) but there delivery is mere recitation. The action begins to come to life with the first appearance of Salome herself (a gamin Matthew Tennyson) who speaks her lines as though she means them rather than pompous intonation. Salome is intrigued by Herod’s prisoner, the prophet Iokanann (John the Baptist by another name) played by Gavin Fowler. Iokanann is filthy, clad only in his underwear, but he still catches the young princess’s eye. He rejects her advances – with fatal consequences. What I don’t get is why he is permitted to continue giving his ominous predictions – if characters like Herod and Herodias find his words so annoying or insulting, why didn’t they gag him, at least? Oh well. His prophecies add to the sense of impending doom, I suppose.
Rants in his pants: Gavin Fowler as Iokanaan (Photo: Isaac James)
Fowler is an agile Iokanann, filled with the wild conviction of his beliefs, while Suzanne Burden’s wearily glamorous Herodias is a fine comic counterpoint. Matthew Pidgeon is imposing as the hedonistic Herod, and there are some fine, compelling moments: for example, a spot of contemporary dance depicting the grief of the Page (Andro Cowperthwaite) for the death of Assad Zaman’s Young Syrian. The music by Perfume Genius is pulsing and vibrant, with the energy of clubland, which works well to underscore the action. Singer Ilan Evans, a world-weary M.C. adds torch-song resignation to events as they unfold.
But it is Matthew Tennyson’s Salome that holds the attention. Seemingly fragile, almost bird-like, he evokes rather than impersonates the female. His dance is a high-energy, jerky affair, reflecting the lust of Herod and his court – Polly Bennett’s movement direction brings angst and tension and above all expression to Wilde’s difficult exchanges. Tennyson is boldly defiant – Salome is accustomed to using her wiles to get her own way but is also strong and stubborn enough to stand her ground when denied. She is determined to kill the thing she loves – ooh, that sounds familiar… The story culminates in horror as Salome remonstrates and coos with the head of the man who rejected her advances.
A rather patchy affair, I’m afraid, this tale about unrequited passions, but on the whole I think I enjoyed the production more than the actual play.
Wilde at heart: Matthew Tennyson as Salome (Photo: Isaac James)
Leave a comment | tags: Andro Cowperthwaite, Assad Zaman, Gavin Fowler, Ilan Evans, Matthew Pidgeon, Matthew Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Owen Horsley, Perfume Genius, Polly Bennett, review, RSC, Salome, Stratford upon Avon, Suzanne Burden, The Swan Theatre | posted in Theatre Review