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Tamburlaine review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘stylishly minimal’

Lourdes Faberes and Leo Wan in Tamburlaine at Arcola Theatre, London

Marlowe’s world-conquering shepherd Tamburlaine loves rolling the names of places round his mouth: Persepolis, Scythia, Aleppo, Damascus.

This relish is palpable in Lourdes Faberes’ swaggering performance as Tamburlaine, knocking out a roll call of conquests as she heads up a female-dominated team. There’s a real thrill watching Faberes in the role – she’s an icy badass in leather trousers.

Elsewhere Ng Choon Ping’s production is pared back to the extreme: six actors and a white wall onto which more names of people and places are projected. It’s stylishly cinematic, a quality continuously underscored by the foreboding soundtrack of percussion from Joji Hirota.

At times this slickness verges on anodyne: there’s little sense of violent devastation and with 10 acts packed into two hours, inevitably some of the details get lost in the mix. This isn’t helped by extensive multi-rolling and while some characters feel distinct, including Fiona Hampton’s hostage-queen Zenocrate, others are underpowered. The cast shines in the private, domestic moments: a blackly humorous family squabble between Tamburlaine and sons, the suicide of a captive king and his wife.

It is still stirring to see women deal so matter of factly (and bloodthirstily) with power – but there are times when this production leaves you wishing for more nuance, a more assertive expression of some of the ideas bubbling under its surface. There is a teasing suggestion that for all the pomp, Tamburlaine is doing this to impress the girl; like the rest of the production, it’s a potentially fascinating idea, frustratingly underdeveloped.


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Marlowe'w epic chronicle of conquest given a stylish minimalist treatment