Dido, Queen Of Carthage
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
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.