Dido, Queen of Carthage, Cottesloe, National Theatre London
Thursday 26 March 2009
Apart from a garbled version in the Globe six years ago, Marlowe's first play is barely known and the first thing to say about this riveting revival by James Macdonald is: about bloody time, too! References to the play crop up in Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and you could say that Antony and Cleopatra is in some ways a rewrite.
But Marlowe does so many astonishing things that just to have it laid out in so intelligent a fashion will do. Beyond that, Anastasia Hille as Dido is queen of not just Carthage but also neurasthenia. She and her sister Anna (Sian Brooke) are clearly damaged psychological goods, making suicide a plausible modern option when all hope and friendship finally evaporates.
Macdonald sees Dido as a wounded creature, her seduction of Mark Bonnar's full-chested, powerful Aeneas an act of desperation in itself. The famous scene in the cave is the crux of the play, both parties exhaling post-coital pleasure: "If he forsakes me not, I never die; For in his looks I see eternity, and he'll make me immortal with a kiss."
Sticking closely to the first, second and fourth books of the Aeneid, Marlowe still deviates dramatically in the character of Iarbus (Obi Abili), a neighbouring African king. Anna becomes her own sister's rival for his love. And 800 lines on the Fall of Troy are compressed to just 180 in Marlowe's magnificent rolling verse.
Bonnar delivers that speech haunted by memories. The intensity of human passion outstrips the trivial intervention of the gods: Jupiter's opening bitchiness ("Come gentle Ganymede and play with me, I love thee well, say Juno what she will") and Venus's (Siobhan Redmond) maternal gibbering are soon relegated to the sidelines. But the dies are cast.
Dido takes Aeneas on a tour of her gallery of suitors, a remarkable scene played by the actors with gazes fixed above our heads. Aeneas, like Antony, dithers in his mission to fulfil a military and political destiny in Italy. The understated design of Tobias Hoheisel and lyrical music of Orlando Gough sustain a mood of hushed intensity that leads inexorably to the grisly compilation of Dido's funeral pyre. The show's a serious pleasure.
To 2 June (020 7452 3000; www.nationaltheatre.org.uk)
Arts & Ents blogs
Dennis Hopper's lost sixties photo album found
Top Gear makes Saudis look liberal, Kirsty Wark tells Independent Bath Literature Festival
Rachel Riley 'in line to replace Susanna Reid' on BBC Breakfast
Jenny Collier row: Comedy promoter apologises after dropping female comic 'because venue did not want too many women on the bill'
Lena Dunham strips naked for Girls spoof while hosting Saturday Night Live
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
- 1 Oxford is the least affordable city in the UK, where houses cost 11 times local salaries
- 2 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 3 North Korea elections: Kim Jong-un wins 100% of the vote
- 4 David Cameron resorts to paying for Facebook fans because not enough people like him
- 5 Steve Irwin’s final words: Cameraman present at death opens up about deadly stingray attack for the first time