The Swan Theatre
I guess it was a mistake to go to a Preview of Tamburlaine because it is directed by Michael Boyd and his productions are often not in their finished form for the Previews (unlike Gregory Doran’s or Erica Whyman’s). However I did. Friends tell me that it is much better ten days or two weeks into the run. Good.
The story itself is pretty simple. Tamburlaine, born a shepherd, wants to rule the world and sets out to do so by whatever means it takes. He invades, kills and conquers. It was immensely popular with Elizabethan audiences, the first play to spawn a sequel in Tamburlaine the Great Part 11.
This production puts the two plays together, cutting them violently, to result in 2 hours 55 minutes playing time. And for me this is the main part of the problem. A vast number of Marlowe’s mighty lines have inevitably been cut, resulting in a loss of poetry, lyricism, political philosophy and debate and leaving sometimes little more than plot. There are vast numbers of characters (or at any rate named people) involved and so doubling and trebling is parts is necessary. It only takes about an hour or so for the audience to realise that the issues are the same regardless of who is being conquered and that the motivation of the main character is simply megalomania. It’s interesting to see kings killed and reappear as other kings whose behaviour is similar as is their fate. Maybe that is the message of the play, warning Elizabethans of the danger of expansionism and drawing parallels with modern day atrocities. The primary women (Tamburlaine’s wife Zenocrate (Rosy McEwen) and Bajazeth’s wife Zabena (Debbie Korley)) do a good job of attracting audience interest and involvement, despite their curtailed parts and both Tamburlaine (Jude Owusu) and Bajazeth (Sagar I M Arya) are powerful and effective as oppressor and oppressed.
Mycetes, King of Persia, is made semi-comic. Sychophantic Meander (James Tucker), in black, looks out of place and therefore transcends particular time and place.
There is much casual walking over dead bodies. Characters are either smeared in chocolate blood when they die or have chocolate blood poured over them from a bucket. There is a good deal of subtle unobtrusive music, mainly percussion. Bajazeth’s cage is pushed in and off efficiently and serves several symbolic purposes. There are dodgy human horses who pull on Tamburlaine’s chariot after the interval, making obvious political links with Bajazeth in the first half.
There is a horrifying violent immoral ending with the sacrilegious burning of holy books. Kings, we sense, are ten a penny. There are guns and a good deal of leather at the end. All becomes gratuitous violence and slaughter.