Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dido Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe, Cottesloe Theatre, 17-Mar-2009 - Directed by James MacDonald

I believe one of the theories is that Marlowe's death was faked and he ended up in Italy sending plays back to an actor called William Shakespeare who claimed them as his own. While on paper there may be similarities between writings of Marlowe and Shakespeare - and maybe you can come up with some “Dead Poets Society” graph to show them – only one of them truly understood the theatre. If Marlowe wrote Shakespeare he would have had to have gone through a radical transformation. He would have had to learn to avoid very long colourless, speeches in extremely static scenes. He would have had to find out how to string a decently complex plot together, full of people with conflicting strong motivations. He would have kept his Latin at schoolboy level so that ordinary people could have understood it. Most of all he would have realised that his audience was not just made up of university educated grandees of the court but of apprentices and clerks who couldn't get into the nearby bear-baiting.
There is very little in the way of plot in this play – Aeneas turns up, Dido is tricked into falling in love with him, he leaves, she commits suicide. There are no real bad guys, only Dido's, ambiguous spurned lover and a half-hearted Juno. Everything seems to happen in rather easy steps with little threat of conflict. The programme reminded me that Shakespeare wrote a version on Aeneas' story to Dido in Hamlet. Frankly, I think, Shakespeare's version of the speech is vastly superior being more powerful when spoken by the Player King even as it is undercut by silly lines from Polonius.
The actors did their best, especially Anastasia Hille and Mark Bonnar as Dido and Aeneas but they struggled to put any drama into the piece. I don't think that the director took too many risks with the play it felt fairly straightforward. Perhaps a wilder interpretation would made it fail more spectacularly but maybe that would have stopped the four people sat either side of me from walking out at the interval.
It is a pity that Shakespeare's contemporaries don't get performed as regularly as Shakespeare. That regularity means that the problems, imperfections and staging difficulties in Shakespeare's plays have been ironed out by discussion and practice. The contemporaries have to rely on a very few revivals in every generation and the hope that they strike it lucky. Some of these plays are better than some of Shakespeare's and they deserve as much attention.
I'm not sure how much of this applies to Dido but I do think that this production could have done with more fire and innovation.


Anonymous said...

This really sounds like a "sell back my tickets" kind of moment for me ...

Anonymous said...

Anastasia Hille's performance as Dido was one of the best performances I've seen (up there with Janet McTeer in A Doll's House over 10 years ago). While the play itself lacks dramatic dynamism, the production was, overall, very good indeed!

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope that nobody will be selling back their tickets to Dido! My companion and I both thought this was one of the best productions we'd been to in a long time. It was a very slick production which exploited Marlowe's text to the full.

It was indeed a fairly straightforward interpretation, but the director did a beautiful job of drawing out Marlowe's classical emphasis on the vulnerability of humans to the gods and the frailties of human nature - much more powerful I think than a more outlandish but less sensitive approach. The sets were well thought out and visually appealing and although one or two of the gods were perhaps slightly miscast, the leads were excellent.

As for the Latin, it is less than 10 lines in total and I think unlikely to cause a problem for most Renaissance enthusiasts.

Highly recommended.

Ben Wardle said...

I was there last night too. But after that fantastically modern opening with Jupiter and Ganymede getting caught romping on the Conran Shop sofa by Juno, I thought it was an extremely plodding three hours. Aeneas seemed anaemic - with virtually no stage presence and even though Anastasia Hill was vivacious in a young Maggie Smith way, she just wasn't sexy enough. Just because dramatists led interesting lives doesn't mean all their work is as interesting (something the Donmar should have thought about too)

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