Dido, Queen of Carthage

Christopher Marlowe
House on the Hill
Rose Theatre

Aeneas (James Burgess) and Dido (Rhinannon Sommers) Credit: Robert Piwko
Venus (Samantha Spurgin) and Ascanius (Natsha Percival) Credit: Robert Piwko
Dido (Rhinannon Sommers) Credit: Robert Piwko

The thing about ancient tragedy is that underneath it all is soap opera set in another time. Will Dido, Queen of Carthage shot by Cupid's arrow, manage to get stranger Aeneas to love her?

Troy has been destroyed and survivor and lord Aeneas is on a god-given journey to found what will become the Roman empire. He and his men stop off in Carthage only to end up entangled in love stories and other kinds of politics, with meddling gods predictably meddling in the affairs of mortals. This play is a tragedy, written in Elizabethan times, but that doesn't mean that most of the action is tragic.

In fact where this production shines is with the intricate and playground-like relations (who kissed whom) and the most enjoyable moments are those with the humans trying to manipulate each other. The direction from Alex Pearson and Jeremy Smith really gets that this drama is about, well, drama, soap opera style. This is really brought out by an immensely enjoyable Rhiannon Sommers who plays Dido as both a toweringly regal Queen and as a lost human, all with an absolutely magnetic stage presence.

Unfortunately, where this production struggles is with the grander elements of the play: it's often just not clear that some people on stage are gods and Cupid, who essentially ruins everything, is played for laughs which is fun but undercuts the consequences of his actions. The closing tragic scene, while nicely staged, lacks oomph and come off as a necessary bookend—this is what tragedy requires—rather than a devastating loss. Plus Aeneas looks a little... sloppy with his baggy dull red robe: not exactly looking like royalty.

Still, when this production hits its stride it's a lot of fun with some meaty acting and compelling drama. It has to be said too that the Rose Theatre is a great theatre to stage Elizabethan plays like this: the original foundations dating back to Marlowe's time are still there. This gives not only a very real sense of history, but makes the auditorium stunningly beautiful with the bare foundations just visible behind the stage and faintly lit by candlelight. This in itself is impressive enough to be worth a ticket.

Reviewer: Tobias Chapple

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