Marlowe’s Fate – White Bear Theatre, London

Reviewer: Jamie Barnes

Writer and Director: Peter B. Hodges

Elizabethan poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe died in a tavern fight in 1593. But what if he didn’t? First performed in New York in 2018, the UK premiere of Marlowe’s Fate offers up a glimpse into the conspiracies that surround Marlowe’s death, however it seems to heavily favour concept over content.

The story roots itself in the theory that Marlowe’s death was staged at the order of Sir Thomas Walsingham, in order to allow him to escape persecution after insulting the Earl of Southampton, at which point he continued to publish his works under the name of a printing apprentice, William Shakespeare(or Shaxper as he is known in the play), who would act as his public persona.

Unfortunately, the show has a tendency to complicate the narrative of the piece by filling time with unnecessary dialogue, and not fully explaining integral elements, making the plot difficult to follow without firm concentration, even for those acquainted with the theories around the authorship of Shakespeare.

The performance consists of five very long and somewhat meandering scenes and an epilogue, the highlight of which is a debate which addresses the academic evidence for and against the possibility of Marlowe having written under Shakespeare’s name. Played out as a boxing match by puppets, this sequence holds the majority of the humour, historical reference, and entertainment. Performing alongside their puppets(designed by Penn O’Gara), the cast offer up a thoroughly enjoyable debate, and provide a refreshingly engaging opening to the second act, which is unfortunately replaced too soon by the previously established tone from Act 1.

Out of sync with the context of the play, the dialogue switches between Shakespearean prose and more modern discourse in a rather spasmodic fashion, at some points working in favour of the comedic elements of the show, but most of the time fails to register. While the dialogue and character interaction are clearly written with intent to be both comedic and theatrical in regards to storytelling, the ambiguous foundation of the narrative seems to let it down. It amuses, but fails to become fully engaging.

The eclectic cast of characters are powerfully performed by the company, with many doubling up in additional roles. Lewis Allcock’s and Nicholas Limm’s Shaxper and Marlowe play well opposite each other, and provide a much-needed energy to the performance, along with outstanding performances from supporting characters, namely Drayton(PK Taylor) and Poley(Robert Vernon), who bring a quirky individuality to their roles.

At its core, Marlowe’s Fate holds an intriguing premise, however the show would benefit from development in writing and form.

Runs until 27 November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Concept over content

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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