Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Dido Queen of Carthage - Christopher Marlowe

We saw this on Monday night at the RSC, and all I really want to say about it is go and see it.

I've been enthusiastic about Marlowe since studying 'Doctor Faustus for' A levels (decades ago) and would happily go much further out of my way than Stratford to see anything of his performed. I found no such enthusiasm for Anthony and Cleopatra, which was one of our Shakespeare texts (or Twelth Night, which was the other one) so I was interested when I read that Virgil, who provides the source material, turned her into a Cleopatra prototype..

I can see the parallels in the doomed and obsessive love affair that will be the ruin of a queen, but I never had much patience for Anthony, and on the whole I think the themes explored in Dido are quite different.

The play opens with Jupiter lusting after Ganymede, angering both his wife, Juno, and his daughter, Venus - who feels that he should be paying rather more attention to what's happening to her son, Aeneas, as he flees the sack of Troy.

Jupiter tells Venus not to worry, and Aeneas along with his son and a handful of followers find themselves cast ashore in Carthage where they're soon reunited with more of their band of refugees, who are enjoying the hospitality of Dido's court.

Dido takes in Aeneas as well, promising him whatever aid he may need, and asking in return to hear the fate of Troy. Venus, wanting to be sure that Dido will do everything possible for her son, sends Cupid to make sure she falls in love with him. She does, to distraction, but it's a cruel fate.

Aeneas has a fate awaiting him, he is to go to Italy and build a new Troy, and when Jupiter sends Hermes to remind him of this he eventually turns his back on Dido with devastating consequences for her.

The set design was brilliant, a sand covered stage consistently evokes an idea of land and a home land. It is desert and beach, something to be rooted in, and something to travel across. There's also a curtain of water that's tremendously effective - when the shipwrecked Aeneas tumbles through it onto the stage for the first time it really felt like he was being delivered from the storm.

Best of all though is Chipo Chung's performance as Dido. She was mesmerising. The story of the real Dido is frankly inspiring; as a young widow she founded Carthage, building it from nothing into a successful mercantile and navel nation, whilst successfully avoiding pressure from a neighbouring king to marry and submit her subjects to him. Parallels that might conceivably have amused Queen Elizabeth. Which also makes it interesting that when Dido does fall in love and tries to make Aeneas King of Carthage to keep him by her side it works out so badly.

Virgil and Marlowe's Dido has a somewhat different history, but she's still an impressive woman ultimately screwed over by the machinations of the gods. Aeneas is a trickier proposition. When he chooses his duty/destiny to go to Italy and found Rome over her it feels like the cruelest of betrayals after all she has done for him, but love is only really enough in the pages of a romance.

But back to how damn good Chipo Chang was, it all comes together in the final scene (possible spoiler - there's quite a lot of suicide) nobody on our row had dry eyes at the end - also down to Amber Jones, playing Anna (Dido's sister). She doesn't get to do a lot until the end, but the dynamic between the two women makes the emotion so real.

We loved this, it's Wednesday and I'm still buzzing about it - if you can go and see it, go and see it.


  1. Without checking,I think I’ve got tickets for Coriolanus before this, but I definitely have tickets for both in the next month so it’s really good to know how much you’ve enjoyed it.

  2. Loved it, excellent perfermonces from the main cast, brilliant staging, and plenty to think about. If you enjoy it half as much as we did you'll have a great time!