White Bear Theatre
Reviewed – 5th November 2021
“the charm and energy of the cast keep things bubbling along”
Marlowe’s Fate by Peter B. Hodges, and directed by the author, has just opened at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington. Set initially in 1593, the year of Marlowe’s death, this is yet another drama dealing with the question of who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Answer: Shakespeare. But Shakespeare skeptics around the world will rejoice at a new exhumation on an epic mystery that never seems to stay buried. The set up is this: what if Marlowe didn’t die in a tavern brawl in Deptford, but was, instead, spirited away to Europe as a spy for Queen Elizabeth the First and her Privy Council?
Peter Hodges has chosen to treat this material in a comic way, and it’s certainly more palatable than the alternative. Marlowe’s Fate opens in the aforementioned Deptford tavern. Present are the hired assassins, Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley, discussing the job of dispatching the playwright who has been dazzling London theatre audiences with his Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus. They are regretful about having to kill him since they are fans. Marlowe himself enters, and is, understandably, a bit upset to discover that he is about to be assassinated. He is only a bit less upset to find out that his death is going to be faked so that he can continue his work as a spy. At this point, Marlowe’s Fate becomes not a play about Marlowe’s mysterious death, but instead, a play about his eventual return from Europe (if ever). But to Marlowe the playwright, the more important question is this: how he can continue to write, and get his poems and plays out to his adoring public? Well, you guessed it. Enter an uneducated, unsophisticated glover’s son named Will’m Shaxper (sic) from Stratford upon Avon, looking for work with a local printer.
I won’t provide spoilers for this Marlovian/Shakespearean romp except to say that it has a little bit of everything. “Everything” including a rather wonderful impromptu puppet show featuring the Annual Shakespearean Author’s Challenge that opens the second act. As long as you are comfortable with the way that Marlowe’s Fate quickly devolves into absurdity from the few known facts about Christopher Marlowe (and William Shakespeare, for that matter), you will enjoy Hodges’ work in this spirited production. The play is overly long, and there is way too much exposition needed to explain how everything comes about, but the charm and energy of the cast (particularly Nicholas Limm as Marlowe, and Lewis Allcock as Shaxper) keep things bubbling along. As with most productions at the White Bear Theatre, “great reckonings in little rooms” are standard fare here, and the seven actors of Marlowe’s Fate don’t let the small space cramp their style. Penn O’Gara’s costumes and puppets are delightfully and economically made, and Reuben Speed’s Elizabethan tavern design feels appropriately “period.”
This is definitely a show for Shakespeare scholars seeking a break from another interminable conference, or for graduate students in search of a busman’s holiday from writing the never ending PhD dissertation. But really, Marlowe’s Fate is for anyone who enjoys a good “what if?” rather than a “whodunnit.”
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Benji Paris
White Bear Theatre until 28th November
Previously reviewed at this venue this year: