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 Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 14th June, 2017
Phil Porter’s new play ‘borrows’ heavily (to put it mildly!) from the works of Roman comic genius Plautus – Porter is by no means the first to do so; everyone from Shakespeare to Frankie Howerd has been influenced by Plautus’s outlandish plots and larger-than-life character types.
Colin Richmond’s set is a painted representation of two Roman houses – the artificiality is undisguised, as a prompt to tell us we are not in the real world. In this world, characters are broadly drawn, driven by particular foibles and appetites. First among them is General Braggadocio (Felix Hayes), a swaggering braggart, a vain, posturing despot – clearly ripe for duping. Hayes chews his lines with bombast and relish in a massively enjoyable performance. He quotes and paraphrases Donald Trump – which should tell you all you need to know about what kind of dreadful, narcissistic idiot he is.
Running rings around him is Dexter, the cunning, conniving slave. This is the Frankie Howerd role, played here by Sophia Nomvete, a hugely likable presence full of charm and warmth. Her schemes are ludicrous but we take delight in watching them work out, as Dexter copes with each new obstacle that is thrown in her path.
Aiding and abetting (but mostly hampering and hindering) are fellow slaves, Feclus (a hilarious and tightly wound Steven Kynman) whose desperation and frustration are a lot of fun, and Omnivorous (Byron Mondahl) who, as his name gives away, eats a lot but is at his comic best when he is pissed off his face.
Geoffrey Lumb’s handsome but dim young lover, Valentin, is a wide-eyed twit, while his other half, the general’s concubine Voluptua gives the performance of the night. Ellie Beaven is the cream of this very rich crop of comedic talent, flitting between characterisations with impeccable timing and nuance – and it’s not the kind of show where you expect much nuance!
There is superb support from Nicholas Day as game old codger Philoproximus and a star turn from Allo Allo’s Kim Hartman as raddled old prostitute, Climax, hurling herself into Dexter’s schemes with energy and style. Jon Trenchard reinforces the silliness of the whole enterprise, scampering around as Braggadocio’s monkey Terence (named for the other famous Roman playwright, I’ll wager).
Director Janice Honeyman doesn’t miss a trick to keep the laughs coming thick and fast, and much fun is had with some well-placed anachronisms. Roman comedy gives us the opportunity to mock those who would oppress us, while championing the little guy and revelling in the indomitable human qualities of ingenuity and wit. It’s not the plots we come for but the playing. And this production delivers some exquisitely funny playing indeed.
Up Stratford! Felix Hayes and Sophia Nomvete (Photo: Pete Le May)
Leave a comment | tags: Byron Mondahl, Colin Richmond, Ellie Beaven, Felix Hayes, frankie Howerd, Geoffrey Lumb, Janice Honeyman, Jon Trenchard, Kim Hartman, Nicholas Day, Phil Porter, Plautus, review, RSC, Sophia Nomvete, Steven Kynman, Stratford upon Avon, The Swan Theatre, Vice Versa | posted in Theatre Review, Uncategorized