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Dido, Queen of Carthage review at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘rich performances’

Chipo Chung in Dido, Queen of Carthage at the Swan Theatre. Photo: Topher McGrillis Chipo Chung in Dido, Queen of Carthage at the Swan Theatre. Photo: Topher McGrillis

The whims and wishes of the gods feature prominently in Christopher Marlowe’s early, infrequently performed play. Dido, the Phoenician queen, and her lover Aeneas, the man who has been washed up on her shores, are at their mercy. Venus and Juno taunt one another while the mortals pay the price for their capriciousness.

Kimberley Sykes, making her RSC directorial debut, and designer Ti Green have carpeted the stage in sand. It clings to the skin and clothes of the cast, both a symbol of the place in which the Trojans find themselves, this land other than their own, and a portent of things to come: in the right light it looks like ash.

Marlowe’s play is one of many threads (possibly too many) but Sykes handles them well. Though the pacing sags slightly in the middle, she draws rich, compelling performances from Chipo Chung, as the queen consumed by love, regal in demeanour yet obviously besotted, and Amber James, as`Anna, the queen’s steadfast sister, herself in love with Dido’s former suitor Iarbus.

Sandy Grierson gives a performance of typical delicacy and nuance, making the most of his long, pain-filled speech about the fall of Troy, his voice quivering at the memory of the bloody and broken bodies.

Sykes’ visually appealing production is, for the most part, also one of clarity. The actors all engage with the intricacy of Marlowe’s verse, though a number of her ideas – like the video briefly projected onto a wall of water by a camera-toting Hermes – don’t feel particularly well integrated into the piece. She succeeds though in taking a play full of feuding gods and Cupid-induced passions and making it engaging and accessible.

Read our interview with Chipo Chung

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Engaging and visually appealing production of Christopher Marlowe’s play