In the middle of London’s Leicester Square is the Actor’s Centre and The Tristan Bates Theatre. I’ve been invited along to watch LAZARUS’ latest outing, Tamburlaine The Great. One of Marlowe’s finest works, Tamburlaine is the tale of ambition, defiance and downfall that shook the world in the late 1580s and still shakes us today.
The core elements of Marlowe’s story; the rebellion, the institutions, the warring factions, the displaced; foreshadow much of what is going on in our world today. This is the story of Syria, of Gaza, of British Politics and European tension – a must watch in light of our current struggle with power and oppression. Rife with political and religious friction, Tamburlaine delivers a truly stirring message and LAZARUS have created a successful rendition of this important play.
Director, Ricky Dukes, has worked a cleverly reduced and concise play that gets right to the heart of Tamburlaine’s obsession with domination and the political fallout of such an unstoppable and merciless force.
The most striking element of this play, as with most of Dukes’ work, is the visual construction. Stillness and simplicity is used to hair-raising effect throughout the production; none more impactive than the visual language that represents the plethora of battles that carry Tamburlaine to greatness. The opening sequence really riles the blood and creates a duality between the tribal and the institutional factions that define much of the play. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the cast weren’t as convinced. The strong and steady choreography was, at points, weakened by self-concious performances. Sadly, the images themselves worked wonderfully – it’s a shame the cast didn’t seem to believed in all of them.
The second act opens with one of the finest still images of the show. As the rain comes down, Tamburlaine and his followers attend a funeral; black umbrellas and a seamless mass of bodies and shadows grab our full attention in a heartbeat. Duke has mastered the strength in stillness and the simplicity of violence and it makes for a very riveting show.
The sound, lighting and costume design again possess a real confidence in their clarity and simple conventions. The music, designed by Neil McKeown, neatly marries the two contexts of the play. On the one hand, the music is reminiscent of the traditions of the middle east, Asia and Africa – on the other, we have the dark electronica of the modern age in which this rendition is set. The lighting, designed by Jai Morjaria, is totally fundamental to the success of Duke’s imagery. The back-lighting, the stark shafts of colour and the silhouettes complete the visual prowess of this production. There is a wonderful visual language devised to express the acts of suicide and execution that relies on the counter-intuitive relationship between white light and death, which I particularly enjoyed. The symbolic layering and shedding of costume, designed by Rachel Dingle, is among the most overt elements of the production; bordering on the blatant. I appreciate that Tamburlaine becoming the very thing he sought to overthrow while those overthrown become the very thing they fought to repress is a key element of the text, I just wonder whether there could’ve been a touch more variety in their dress. nevertheless, the costumes make clear these journeys and support the message.
Performances, on the most part, were strong. There is certainly a much-appreciated diversity in the ensemble that makes for an interesting spectacle. Although the cast is not entirely devoid of syrupy self-indulgence at times, the principles bolster the show and deliver strong and honest portrayals that impact deeply.
Adam Kunis and Kate Austen as Tamburlaine’s two closest confidants deliver strong and convincing performances throughout, as does Robert Gosling who makes for a captivating and comical King of Argier.
Prince Plockey as Tamburlaine makes for an interesting and unexpected conqueror. A LAZARUS veteran, Plockey is used to titular roles and brings a unique sensitivity to a part so often dulled by bullish masculinity and relentless aggression. Plockey’s Tamburlaine has a real diversity; his infinite charm makes sense of his follower’s devotion; his capacity for love makes the loss of his wife, Zenocrate (Alex Reynolds), heart-wrenching and desperate; and his lust for blood and domination creates a lycanthropic duality between hero and beast. His final scenes are among his most memorable; particularly his last great challenge of the gods, which had me edging towards him in my seat. Depending on your own opinion of ‘dramatic’ pause in verse, Tamburlaine’s death could be either moving or tedious; I felt it was a little slow but still fully committed and sorrowful.
I particularly enjoyed that, even as Tamburlaine breathes his last, he and his fellows still find it in them to laugh at the gods; the final and most resonating defiance of the play. Even though Tamburlaine is finally bested by the Gods, they still revel in the fact that they dared to stand against them.
All in, Tamburlaine is a cleverly constructed and visually powerful show, populated by a strong ensemble. Although momentum was lost in places, the story is concise and lifted by talented principles.
This is a touching and rousing play, an important reflection of our times, and a treat for the senses.