Peter Ormerod reviews the RSC's production of Dido, Queen of Carthage at the Swan Theatre, Stratford
Say what you want about gods, but those Roman ones were a mischievous bunch. They direct proceedings in Christopher Marlowe's earliest play from the outset, controlling everything from the weather to human emotion. But the evening leaves us wondering whether the deities are really under the control of us mortal humans after all.
This is certainly as beautiful and beguiling a production as any of the RSC's this year. It is lit with imagination and elegance, while the music is tremendous, gliding from jarring strings to Eastern exoticism to jagged noise. The staging is bold but never gimmicky, with sheets of rain used to terrific effect. There is also a winning strand of humour throughout. It's a hugely promising debut from director Kimberley Sykes.
Chipo Chung is a radiant and powerful Dido, displaying a natural and understated command. She does a good job of making us care about a relationship she was magicked into; we are told she loves Aeneas only because the goddess Venus (a joyous turn from Ellie Beaven) wills it. Their love is torn by the act of another god, before the play ends in a tragedy exquisite in staging and performance.
It may not be a play of great political relevance to these times, but that is no bad thing, what with Trump and Brexit done to death at the moment. Instead, this concerns itself with something more eternal: gods, people, and the space between them.
* Dido, Queen of Carthage runs until October 28. Call 01789 403493 or visit www.rsc.org.uk to book.