Dido, Queen Of Carthage

Swan The­atre, Strat­ford-upon-Avon

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - THEATRE - Robert Gore-Lang­ton

Christo­pher Mar­lowe’s first play – rarely staged – tells of Ae­neas, a refugee from burn­ing Troy. He finds him­self washed up on the shores of North Africa, where Dido, Queen of Carthage, falls for him, thanks to Cupid, a cheery lit­tle chap with a hy­po­der­mic.

Ae­neas is torn by his des­tiny in Italy and his lust for Dido. Staged on black sand, this of­ten comic play of gods and mor­tals is shot through with vis­tas of Mar­lowe’s ge­nius. Sandy Gri­er­son’s quiv­er­ing Scots voice does full jus­tice to Ae­neas’s har­row­ing speech about the Tro­jan slaugh­ter. Chipo Chung (left), as Dido, gives a right royal per­for­mance as the heart­bro­ken queen who throws her­self on a burn­ing pyre.

Shake­speare-lovers will mar­vel at how much of this play he pinched, with its tem­pests, dis­guises and love po­tions. And in Dido you find the sul­try pro­to­type for Cleopa­tra. With haunt­ing mu­sic, this El­iz­a­bethan rar­ity is a real rev­e­la­tion.

Less suc­cess­ful from the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany is the last play in its ‘Rome’ sea­son, Co­ri­olanus (Royal Shake­speare The­atre, Strat­ford-upon-Avon, un­til Satur­day) ★★. Hav­ing sin­gle-hand­edly crushed the Volsci, the mighty war­rior Co­ri­olanus should be a hero. But his ar­ro­gant con­tempt for the vot­ers gets him ban­ished. So he swaps sides and turns on Rome.

Sope Dirisu’s fear­some Co­ri­olanus is drip­ping in gore. But while he’s ter­rific to look at, his verse-speak­ing is drab, a ma­jor set­back in such a huge part. His schem­ing ri­val, Au­fid­ius, is well played by James Corrigan. But the two tri­bunes – sub­stan­tial parts – have been gen­der-re­as­signed as women, wrongly di­lut­ing the play’s stri­dent machismo.

This up­date has oc­ca­sional flashes of emo­tion but does lit­tle to cast new light on this timely, aus­tere mas­ter­piece about power and the peo­ple.

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