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Review: Dido, Queen of Carthage (The Rose, Bankside)

The Rose, Bankside is an incredible performance space. A 16th Century round playhouse rediscovered by Museum of London archaeologists in 1989 during construction of a new office block. A campaign ensured the structural remains were preserved and the site was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument by the government. What better place to watch a Christopher Marlowe play first published in 1594.

As is often the case with 16th Century plays, Dido, Queen of Carthage is a tale of the Gods, in this case, Venus and Jupiter, playing games with mortals for their own amusement. The play opens with Jupiter (Carston Garbode) very much enjoying a dalliance with his companion Ganymede (Edward Walters). This is interrupted by a surprised and angry Venus (Samantha Spurgin), who decides to enlist the help of Cupid to cause mayhem by confusing the love between Queen Dido (Rihannon Sommers – the real star, displaying a performance a cut above the rest) and her current lover Iarbus (Edward Walters).

There are some great comedic moments throughout the play, particularly from Dido and Anna, Dido’s sister (Julia Taylor). Sommers displays a real understanding of the material with its subtle nuances and interprets the text to great effect.

Rihannon Sommers as Dido, is the real star of the show.

Aeneas (James Burgess), returned from battle at Troy, becomes the subject of Dido’s false love after she is tricked with Cupid’s arrow. Burgess delivers monologues with emotion and conviction whilst maintaining good pace and clarity, a difficult feat with this dated text.

There is not much set to speak of, only a box strewn with cushions which acts as rock, bed and throne for the actors. The incredible space offered by the archeological site which acts as a backdrop to the action gives a great depth to the stage, and aids the actors performance in amplifying their voices giving a natural reverb that couldn’t have been produced as authentically with sound effects. The costumes are basic, but this is a play focused on the performances which are solid in most cases.

The audience is very much in the thick of the action, with the space the players have to operate being very small. This creates moments where audience participation is used to hilarious effect and the ensemble cast who play multiple parts work together very well.

Towards the latter end of the tragic play, Samantha Spurgin’s performance as the Maid, really brings a lighter comedic element to a rather serious play. The audience welcomed the sense of relief from her cockney interlude.

The opportunity to see a production in this venue is highly recommended and Dido,Queen of Carthage would be a fantastic one to start with.

Dido, Queen of Carthage is booking until 31 March 2013 at The Rose Theatre, 56 Park Street, London, SE1 9AR (02072619565). Tickets start at £12.

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