Writer: Christopher Marlowe
Director: James Wallace
Reviewer: Christopher Hong
The play begins with handfuls of white confetti thrown at the wedding of the King of Navarre and there is plenty more where the confetti comes from. The plot concerns various factions and religious allegiances in France plotting against one another and leading to the slaughter of Protestants. It is a merry-go-round of kingship and scheming. To save on actual blood and gore, red confetti is rather effectively thrown around as knives are pulled out of flesh. As the body count rises, the floor ends up littered in red confetti and even the audience gets a good dose of it. The killings are so numerous that there is a montage of them complete with stylistic low-fi handheld torch lighting and B movie music that Tarantino would be proud of.
This is probably not the most well known of work by Christopher Marlowe and it is rarely performed. The production is rough round the edges but there is a sense of fun and looseness which is very enjoyable. The director James Wallace has done a fantastic job and it is a production bursting with inventive ideas. There is deliberate humour which feels corny at first, such as the exaggerated sharpening of a knife as the Queen Mother plots a bloodbath. But it soon fits in with jokes that run through the Halloween-themed evening. There are masks and plastic body parts, even a nurse uniform and a French maid outfit bringing a cheekiness to the production.
The show can do serious as well. Although the stage and seating area is compact, the cavernous site of the original Rose Theatre behind not only allows for some interesting staging, it also provides great acoustic resonance to the stirring speeches and rage-filled rants. Being practically an archaeological site, it is a little cool and damp and lacks its own bathroom facilities. The lack of which is brilliantly played upon in a scene where a toilet is brought onstage. At the same time, it is utilised perfectly to demonstrate the disrespect and oneupmanship the young Henry III shows the Duke of Guise.
While on the subject of Henry III and the Duke of Guise, they are played outstandingly by James Askill and John Gregor respectively. Askill grew from a child with a teddy bear to a relaxed, hedonistic youth barely masking his ambition and ruthlessness. Gregor’s Duke of Guise is menacing and serious, providing some dramatic balance not letting the comedy get out of hand. Credit to both the director and the hardworking cast of 13 who play forty characters while maintaining a clarity between them.
Rarely is an Elizabethan tragedy with such a high death toll so much fun. It is highly recommended for the sheer artistic and directorial ingenuity, if not the rather muddled and inconsequential plot. And it is hard to beat a ninety minute confetti fest.
Runs until 29th March