Believe What You Will, Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Company's admirable Gunpowder Season throws up another politically charged piece, glinting with implicit contemporary application, in the shape of Josie Rourke's powerful and atmospheric staging of Philip Massinger's 1631 play Believe What You Will.

The focus is on Antiochus, a Middle Eastern ruler who has been missing for 22 years, presumed to have died in a disastrous battle that nearly wiped out his army. In the meantime, Rome has become the world superpower. Antiochus's re-emergence from hiding poses a threat. Though they now fund Rome's growing empire, the resentful Asian provinces have not forgotten their own former glory. So to prevent him from becoming a rallying point for unrest, Rome will have to do everything it can to discredit Antiochus.

While it's hard to imagine George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld making a pilgrimage to Stratford-upon -Avon, it's all too easy to imagine that, if they found themselves at a performance of Believe What You Will, they would be inwardly cheering on the character, Flaminius (played here by a glaring, messianic William Houston). He's the Roman ambassador who justifies dirty tricks against Antiochus on the grounds of "necessity of state", a term as self-servingly commodious as "national security".

Apart from one amateur production at a university, this play has not been revived since its original run. Massinger's first version, in which Spain was the might-is-right villain, ran foul of the censor. For the RSC, the difficulties are textual.

The play has survived in a physically damaged authorial manuscript, with missing bits at vital points near the beginning and the end. In the event, the company commissioned the poet and playwright, Ian McHugh, to cover the hiatuses with pastiche verse and to patch up the plot with informed guesses. The result is largely a success. McHugh's interpolations heighten the sense that Flaminius's Roman zeal is carrying him to an excess of perfidy that will eventually prove his undoing.

In a production full of simply but sensuously evoked locations, Peter de Jersey brings just the right kind of experience-scarred charisma to the central role. The emphasis is thrown on how only exceptional courage and virtue can resist the corrupting force of a superpower

In rep to 4 November (0870 609 1110)

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea