Review: The Massacre at Paris

Sarah Coombes 14 February 2014

The Massacre at Paris is Christopher Marlowe’s retelling of the 1572 St Barthlomew’s Day Massacre of Protestant Huguenots in Paris and the scheming treachery of the Duke of Guisse as he edges his way towards the throne. It is a famous atrocity that unfortunately this performance does not do justice to.

The society’s stated aim is to ‘respect the integrity of texts, and to deliver the verses clearly’. This they succeeded in, and the mostly traditional production used original dialogue for the well-delivered monologues. It often felt however that the task of delivering the correct 16th century lines was an all-consuming one, and the acting part fell by the wayside. There were some commendable performances though. The Duke of Guisse handled long angry monologues well, and was particularly valiant in her struggle against a soar throat and near lost-voice. The effect of increasing hoarseness as death approached actually enhanced the sense of the Duke’s days being numbered. Similarly impressive were King Henry and Admiral Epernoun, who were commanding in their performances and believably cold-blooded in their crimes. Aside from that the dialogue sometimes felt more like a read through than an opening night performance.

There were a few modern twists, such as intermittent radio broadcasts, summarising the action, perhaps in case the audience had got a bit muddled by the 16th century English. The blurb of the play explains that it is as much about the way news travels as the story itself. Presumably the radio broadcasts were supposed to be a take on that, but the radio aspect disappeared about half way in and fails to make a real impact. One excellent piece of staging brought the play to life; actors were suddenly dragged and shoved from the audience in a moment of believable violence and fear.

The Marlowe society did well to fit such a complex plot into an hour, but overall the production lacked imagination and the actors lacked gusto. Some of the coughs, croaks and flat acting might be cured with some more rehearsal time and some Lemsip, but it is unlikely that it will be enough to really improve the show.