“Of Troy am I. Aeneas is my name,
Who driven by war from forth my native world,
Put sails to sea to seek out Italy;”
This production of Marlowe’s epic first drama was gripping in its storytelling and heart-breaking in its execution. Supported by a strong cast and good use of a small-scale, dark setting, the two leads, Dido and Aeneas, were spectacular and did a fantastic job of taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster through hope, love and loss.
Aeneas the warlike Trojan has just survived the sack of his city and is told by the gods to leave and found a new Troy in Italy. A refugee, he and his crew are washed up after a storm in Tunisia, where Dido reigns as Queen of Carthage. The gods conspire to make the two fall in love and Dido offers to make Aeneas king. But it is not enough to keep him from his divine fate and he leaves her. She is utterly dejected, cursing the descendants of Aeneas to forever be in enmity with the peoples of Carthage, the mythical origin of the long wars between Rome and Carthage. Dido then consigns herself to history:
“It is Aeneas' frown that ends my days.
If he forsake me not, I never die,
For in his looks I see eternity,
And he'll make me immortal with a kiss.”
Dido, played by Grace Glevey, was regal from her first appearance on stage. As she falls in love with Aeneas, her lines are very tenderly rendered and show a Queen (relatably) torn between her desire to declare her love for him and her fear of seeming a fool if does not love her back. As things begin to go wrong, she gives a heart-rending soliloquy debating whether she should tear up Aeneas’ sails and rigging to stop him leaving. She is mad with love and Glevey performed these lines excellently. The ethereal Venus (Kay Benson) and the wilful, comic and cheeky Cupid (Archie Williams) conspired together to make her this way and their power is insurmountably strong.
Harry Burke is so believably Aeneas it’s untrue. He is a gripping storyteller – his graphic retelling of the Trojan War was beautifully done while the director made the most of the possibilities of minimal staging. The death of Priam at the hands of Achilles’ son was a particularly moving scene. Burke’s steely rhetoric and presence was kept up throughout the show, but he showed great flexibility as he melted into a more romantic tone in the love-scenes with Dido.
It was almost flawless, though there were still a couple of sound issues that needed to be ironed out, but this did not ruin the overall effect of the play.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable production and a brilliant rendition of an ancient story which must be given extra credit for being rehearsed and put on in exam term.
Dido, Queen of Carthage is on at the Howard Theatre at 19:30 until the 9th June.