Writer: Christopher Marlowe
Director: Steven Green
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Power, glory and land; the motivations for war hardly change which explains why 400 year old plays still resonate with modern audiences. London regularly sees versions of Shakespeare’s Henry V or Othello brought forward to the 20th Century, where the language finds renewed meaning in the trenches and encampments of the modern war setting. There are, it seems, universal truths about the experience of conflict which unite the people who fought them regardless of whether they were holding a long-bow or a machine gun.
Jackson’s Lane’s latest production of Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlow is performed over two nights; Part One is all about the process of war and sees the warrior King conquer nation after nation, removing the crowns, and heads, of his rivals before becoming an unchallenged emperor of a vast territory. Part Two, performed the following evening is more concerned with sustaining his empire and succession planning, and in an interesting twist the company rotate rôles so the male protagonist of Part One becomes a female Tamburlaine in Part Two.
For essentially a student show (all the cast members are on the Fourth Monkey Two Year Rep Actor Training Programme) this production gives an epic sense of scale and those hungry for the next Game of Thrones instalment will find plenty to enjoy in the depiction of fighting tribes and kingdoms. The costumes and styling give both a sweeping sense of multiple peoples as well as emphasising the barbarian, earthy nature of Tamburlaine’s crew particularly contrasting the more luxurious elegance of the Turkish court.
In fact the whole production really excels in its evocation of place, using subtly lighting changes, music and sound effects to move the audience around the map, as well as hanging some simple curtains and rugs to denote tents. Director Steven Green has used the space effectively having his large cast enter from the back of the auditorium as well as from the stage so those on the aisle are often in danger of being trampled by the horde, but it all adds to the impression of danger and violence that the show conveys quite well.
There are also 26 individual cast members which add to the sense of scale and in one dynamically staged battle scene give an impression of the confusion of war. Interestingly, most of the cast are women and it’s nice to see a production that is blind to specific gender rôles – it’s certainly no less bloodthirsty. Mark Lewis as Theridamas stands out and has the most natural command of the verse but Simon Woodcock as Bajazeth and Abey Bradbury as Zabina also do well in the dramatic finale.
In Part One, Tamburlaine is played by Oscar Scott-White who brings menace and command to the rôle, but the part does get a bit samey after a while – just lots of victorious shouting and gloating – so maybe there’s an opportunity to add a calmer nuance for variety or better explore Tamburlaine’s belief in himself and his pre-destined victories.
It’s engagingly told and while another couple of battle scenes would have been nice to perk things up, the story has been set up well for Part Two. The cast interesting didn’t take a bow so it’s clear there is more to come. And with the promise of a female leader, this could add an entirely new perspective to Tamburlaine’s quest to consolidate and survive.
Runs until21 March