Review: Tamburlaine

Trinity is the term for lazing about on the lawns with Pimm’s and barbecues, finishing exams and enjoying the finer points of Oxford life. This is the term of light-hearted garden shows, experimental garden shows, and Brideshead Revisited, as the summer evenings and the Oxford bubble so clearly invite. In this climate, you’d be forgiven for not quite feeling up to an evening of hardcore Marlowe. Yet this bold production looks set to be a viable alternative to more traditional summery pursuits.

Very popular in its day, Marlowe’s play follows Tamburlaine, a humble peasant who decides to declare war on the corrupt and weak rulers of the world. The power he swiftly gains goes to his head and his brutality escalates along with his success, leaving us with important questions about the nature of rule, and the nature of this one mysterious, magnetic man.

Antti Laine shines as the eponymous hero, exhibiting great energy and an excellent evil smile. He seems to have enough charisma to play the part of a man who is able to persuade even his enemies to join him just through words – in the first scene I saw, the Persian king Theridimas, who had set out specifically to kill him, was won round suspiciously easily. Unfortunately it was difficult to hear his actual words of persuasion, due to the dodgy acoustics in the preview room, but they must have been pretty special, as he was convinced in about two minutes flat, which made for slightly confusing viewing. King Mycetes of Persia doesn’t fare much better, and Robert Dullnig could have made more of the great comic potential of his role, as a king even weaker than Theridimas.

The one battle scene I saw was rather wooden, with conversation going on whilst some characters had swords across their throats in a way that was awkward rather than menacing, and it’s hard to do a dramatic death scene that’s not a bit stilted, especially when one character announces ‘I die’ just before he, well, dies. But the production sounds like it will be magnificent with the O’Reilly decked out in drapery like a battle fort. The play contains some of Marlowe’s most beautiful poetry, and if you can drag yourself off a punt, it looks like it will come together to be powerful and exciting.

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3.5 STARS