2/5/09, Cottesloe (National).
3hrs. Marlowe's (very long, very wordy) first play, done relatively straight, the Cottesloe arranged conventionally. The first half dragged, the second was tighter.
A two-tier set (by Tobias Hoheisel) with a central section, behind a golden curtain, which doubled as Dido's bedroom and the cave in which the lovers take refuge during a storm; the roof supplied the playing area on which the gods appeared. When the roof was in use a dark half-wall spanning the width of the stage descended in front of the curtain; at other times the wall lifted to provide a kind of frontage above the back of the stage. The costumes were generally Elizabethan but with touches of the exotic in Dido's Phoenician finery and Iarbus's African skirt and bare torso.
Anastasia Hille as Dido seemed at times a little lightweight. Perhaps it was just that she spoke too quietly. But she looked a dead spit for Elizabeth I, another queen who had lots of suitors and resolutely refused to marry any of them. Mark Bonnar was a grizzled Scottish Aeneas (with a Northern Irish sidekick). Siobhan Redmond an equally Scottish and somewhat unlikely buxom Venus in pale pink tight wraparound.
There were moments of unexpected humour. Hard to know if Marlowe intended them or whether they merely seem funny to us. The prologue (in which Jove sits with a sulky Ganymede and dandles him on his knee) must have been meant either to amuse or to provoke contemporaries.
The play is a classical tragedy, in that the characters' misfortunes are engineered by the gods (as a result of inter-deity bickering and rivalry). Dido falls in love with Aeneas only after Venus dispatches Cupid to stab her with his little arrow. Aeneas deserts her after Jove (indirectly) reminds him of his destiny, despite his mother Venus and her desperate efforts to keep him with Dido.
Maybe the sense that it's all out of the characters' own hands contributed to the slight sense of ennui I felt; it came alive only towards the end when both Aeneas and Dido seem genuinely tortured -- though they lapse at a couple of points into Latin!. But Dido's self-immolation in a pyre in her bedroom of Aeneas's belongings was impressive rather than moving.