Tamburlaine: Christopher Marlowe (1587)

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★★★★

(Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 25 August 2018)

Something is brewing in the Scythian steppes. As the power of once-mighty Persia begins to wane under the rule of foolish Mycetes, rumours reach the court of a new leader rising in the north: a former shepherd, who has gathered a band of thugs and thieves and believes he is destined to rule the world. His name is Tamburlaine. Christopher Marlowe’s play is rarely performed, which is a pity because it has powerful resonance in the modern world. The RSC’s production, directed by Michael Boyd and designed by Tom Piper, was first staged in New York in 2014 and boils down Parts 1 and 2 into a single three-and-a-half-hour behemoth of death and ambition. (Imagine seven seasons of Game of Thrones condensed into 180 minutes and you have some idea of the amount of blood involved.) These cuts emphasise Tamburlaine’s dizzying rise to power, and the whole play is anchored by a magnificently charismatic performance by Jude Owusu.

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Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare

Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

★★★★

Or, Love’s Labour’s Won

(Royal Shakespeare Company, Haymarket Theatre, until 18 March 2017)

Several documents refer to a Shakespeare play called Love’s Labour’s Won, but there’s no sign of it in the First Folio and scholars have, increasingly, come to think that it might just have been renamed. The RSC make the playful but persuasive case that it may have been the play now known as Much Ado About Nothing (i.e. ‘Love’s Labour’s Won, or, Much Ado About Nothing‘). In the second part of their London-season duology, the cast and crew of the RSC take us back to the sumptuous country house we saw in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Then it was summer, the last summer, before war broke out and the young men marched away. But now it’s Christmastime: the Armistice has been signed and the soldiers have come home. The battles are no longer those of bayonets and machine-guns in the mud but, instead, the glittering flash and fire of wordplay.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost: William Shakespeare

Shakespeare: Love's Labour's Lost

★★★★½

(Royal Shakespeare Company, Haymarket Theatre, until 18 March 2017)

There are days when the whole world seems pitched against you. On Monday there was a Tube strike, it was pouring with rain and, too late, I found a hole in my boot. On arriving at the Haymarket, cold and grumpy and with a very wet sock, I was not disposed to be happy. But the RSC’s latest London transfer could charm a smile out of a stone. Two plays have come to town: Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing. Conceived as two halves of a pair, joined by a common spirit if not by the same characters, these plays unfold in a country house on either side of the First World War. Brimming with light and life, skirmishing lovers and rapier wit, they’re bubblier than a bottle of prosecco.

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