dfp_header_hidden_string

Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Tamburlaine review at Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘exhilarating, blood-soaked epic’

Jude Owusu and Mark Hadfield in Tamburlaine. Photo: Ellie Kurttz Jude Owusu and Mark Hadfield in Tamburlaine. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

There are buckets of blood in Michael Boyd’s production of Tamburlaine. Literally. This gripping staging of Christopher Marlowe’s telling of a lowly shepherd turned all-conquering despot subtly stylises the savage violence of the play. The brutality is still shocking, but it’s also borderline symbolic: an element of human nature to be reflected on, as well as appalled by.

As Tamburlaine, Jude Owusu captures the ruler’s senseless viciousness, but he is also enigmatic, laddish with his mates, and scarily convinces in his suggestion that a proximity to bloodshed quickly anaesthetises people to its horrors.

One of the most compelling aspects of the play is the relationship between Zenocrate (Rosy McEwen) and Tamburlaine, her captor. McEwen crystallises beautifully the raging mixture of loathing, lust and love Zenocrate feels for her eventual husband.

Her death scene, in which the tear-streaked Tamburlaine pledges to have her embalmed, widely commemorated in statues and never interred until he dies, is disconcerting in how it reveals the softly unspooling private grief of a public tyrant, briefly flipping existing sympathies.

Boyd’s long-term collaborator, designer Tom Piper, has located Marlowe’s play in an industrial abattoir-like space. Swords gradually give way to machine guns, while the costumes mix modern and ancient, perhaps as a nod to how cycles of violence repeat throughout history.

Not everything quite works. Those buckets sometimes overly sanitise the gore (excellent tongue-cutting, though) and semi-comedic interludes are generally unnecessary. But overall this is drum-beating, blood-soaked, machismo theatre. And it’s executed with precision.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Verdict
Jude Owusu gives a thunderous performance in Marlowe’s exhilarating, blood-soaked epic
^