Tag Archives: Penn O’Gara

Marlowe’s Fate

★★★

White Bear Theatre

MARLOWE'S FATE

Marlowe’s Fate

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

 

Marlowe’s Fate

White Bear Theatre until 28th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | June 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Blitz!

★★★

Union Theatre

Blitz!

Blitz!

Union Theatre

Reviewed – 7th February 2020

★★★

 

“Anderson’s soprano voice, in particular, is a true joy to hear and resonates beautifully in the intimate space”

 

Phil Willmott returns to the Union Theatre for the fourth year of his Essential Classics Season which casts an educated eye through annuls of theatre history and provide context to our times. 2020’s season takes the 75th anniversary of VE Day as the impetus for a triplet of Second World War plays.

Ballooning grandly in the middle is Blitz!, Lionel Bart’s extravagant musical (once the most expensive ever produced) based on Bart’s own experience growing up as an East-End Jewish lad during the Blitz. The plot revolves around the feuding Blitztein and Locke families – one Jewish, one Cockney – who each own a stall in Petticoat Lane market. Mrs Blitztein (Jessica Martin), worries about her errant son Harry (Robbie McArtney) while deflecting the antisemitic barbs from her antagonist Mr Locke (Michael Martin). Meanwhile, the Locke son Georgie (Connor Carson) is in love with the Blitztein daughter Carol (Caitlin Anderson) – creating an intricate family drama set amidst the most harrowing of London times.

Given the Union Theatre’s reputation for staging musicals,  the cosy setting provides a real challenge to squeeze such a huge ensemble into a chamber production and director Phil Willmott’s parring of the original script doesn’t always live up to this challenge. The first act – billowing as it does with musical numbers played by a huge ensemble – becomes a little hard to follow and, wrapped as they are in all that glitz, some of the emotional resonance between the characters’ plotlines gets slightly lost. Willmott also appears to have made some strange choices with his re-working. ‘Opposites Attract’, a number that provides playful hints towards the true feelings between the warring Locke and Blitztein family heads is moved to the second act leaving a set up too close to its eventual punch-line which strips the production of an important relational nuance.

In the second act, however, the pacing is much improved, and the resolve of the various plot arcs begin to land well. Caitlin Anderson and Connor Carson both deliver outstanding performances as the love-struck duo in the centre. While Anderson’s soprano voice, in particular, is a true joy to hear and resonates beautifully in the intimate space. Reuben Speed’s set design is also impressive and brings to life the wartime surroundings of various parts of the East End while moving between the grand and the intimate effortlessly.

The spirit of revival that Willmott takes to each Essential Classics Season and his cataloguing of theatre history is an impressive and worthwhile endeavour. With Blitz! he has set himself a true challenge, which he sadly doesn’t always overcome. However – given the paucity of opportunities to see Blitz! staged in all its glory again – fans of musical theatre must go see this show.

 

Reviewed by Euan Vincent

Photography by Mark Senior

 


Blitz!

Union Theatre until 7th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Brass | ★★★★ | November 2018
Striking 12 | ★★★★ | December 2018
An Enemy of the People | ★★ | January 2019
Can-Can! | ★★★★ | February 2019
Othello | ★★★★ | March 2019
Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens | ★★★ | May 2019
Daphne, Tommy, The Colonel And Phil | | July 2019
Showtune | ★★★★ | August 2019
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes | ★★★★ | October 2019
Tom Brown’s Schooldays | ★★ | January 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews