Probably Christopher Marlowe's earliest play, the chances are good that Dido has never quite been performed like this before. Written as a children's play in the newly evolving blank verse of the 1580's, it here adopts the playground as its central domain, a slide functioning as the means by which the gods descend to earth and the gods presented as juvenile, capricious figures toying with the fates of the mortals in their orbit. Based upon The Aeneid, the story of the doomed love of Dido and Aeneas was, back in the days of compulsory Latin, a school staple, but it's now probably a hazier story in general. Taking refuge with Queen Dido in Carthage after the sack of Troy, Dido and Aeneas fall passionately in love but destiny thwarts them: Aeneas is ordered to proceed on his travels and fulfil his mission to found Rome while a bereft Dido can find solace only in death.
The idea of presenting the play within the context of a giant playground is a good one, reinforcing the image of the gods as overgrown children, wearing their parents clothes and meddling simply for the sheer malicious pleasure to be gained. Cupid aims his plastic arrow mischeviously at Dido's susceptible heart, Venus and Juno banter in catty fashion and the Olympians en masse merrily ensnare their human prey with a glee akin to the fairground hoops they whirl.
A play must stand or fall though, not by innovation alone but by the quality of its performance and here the production scores stronger on style than satisfying substance. Rakie Ayola is a persuasive, charismatic Dido but Will Keen's Aeneas seems somewhat underplayed at times. This notwithstanding, it's interesting to see such a play revived and in terms of originality, Tim Carroll's venture certainly possesses novelty value.
Photo: Donald Cooper (Rakie Ayola as Dido and Will Keen as Aeneas)
Notices from the popular press....
CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Infantile production." ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "All six actors flounder so badly in the first three acts that I cannot blame those members of the audience who left at the interval." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "This was a staging that seemed to do the piece few favours." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Neither a few blithe touches nor the attractiveness of Claire van Kampen's score can justify a production that robs Marlowe's play of its Virgilian pathos and adult seriousness."
External links to full reviews from newspapers