Dido Queen Of Carthage

Posted on: 07 April 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Christopher Marlowe’s rarely performed late 16th Century play Dido Queen Of Carthage.


Self destructive desire is a preoccupation of Christopher Marlowe’s rarely performed late 16th Century play Dido Queen Of Carthage which has now opened in a new production directed by James MacDonald at the NT’s Cottesloe Theatre.

The play opens with the tableau of Jupiter dangling Ganymede on his knee, besotted by his infatuation for the petulant boy. After this the mechanics of the plot are set in motion. Seeking refuge from a violent storm, Aeneas lands on the shores of Carthage where Queen Dido, moved by his retelling of the fall of Troy and bewitched by a malevolent Cupid, soon burns with love. Their ensuing passion, manipulated by the watching, warring gods can only end in tragedy.

Written when he was an undergraduate, this is a play in which love is depicted as funny but dangerous, its menace signalled by constant reminders of Helen and the fall of Troy. The drama can be viewed either as an apotheosis of love over honour or an affirmation of duty over passion.

MacDonald stages the work on a bare stage, save for a long yellow curtain that parts to reveal  the scene changes, whether it be a cave, forest, or royal bedchamber, so that we feel we are like a silent witness to the unfolding drama, yet have no power to change the course of events.

The director draws convincing but rather subdued performances from Mark Bonnar and Anastasia Hille as the ill-fated couple Aeneas and Dido respectively, with Alan David as Jupiter and Susan Engel as his long-suffering missus, Juno.

The story of Dido and Aeneas is mainly known from Purcell’s opera, but it is the sheer poetry of Marlowe’s first play that really distinguishes this flawed but nonetheless intriguing production.

When: plays in repertory until 2nd June 2009
Where: Cottesloe Theatre
Box Office: 020 7452 3000

By Laurence Green

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