Monday, 13 October 2014

Christopher Marlow: The Massacre at Paris ****


The Massacre at Paris is one of Christopher Marlow’s most known plays amongst Faustus and Tamburlaines. Once again we face the conundrum of a 400 year old neglected play that has been hidden away from wider audiences. This year celebrates the 450th anniversary of Marlow’s birth and it’s a pity that not enough theatregoers have been exposed to The Massacre at Paris as it has undoubtedly played a massive part in the history of theatre, film and directors today. However the Rose Playhouse and The Dolphin’s Back theatre company have come to the rescue; they have created two productions of The Massacre this year both directed by theatre virtuoso James Wallace, staged like it was back then in 1593, where The Massacre premiered.

As the title suggests there are a lot of murders; eighteen staged murders to be precise.  Without saying too much, The Massacre refers to St Bartholomew’s Day when thousands of protestant Huguenots (men, women and children) were brutally killed across France. Marguerite, played briefly by Ella Road, the daughter of the Queen Mother of France (Kristin Milward) married the Protestant Henry de Navarre (Rhys Bevan) and from then, hell broke loose. Up to 3,000 people were slaughtered in Paris alone, which was, arguably, orchestrated by the zealous and tyrannical Duke of Guise (John Gregor).
Elizabethan plays have their charm in eliciting witty poetry however some of these flourishings were beaten up in The Massacre by bad exit lines with the stereotypical, and dramatic, ‘I die’ lines, which was nicely achieved by Beth Eyre. Due to the number of characters – up to forty- which, the actors and actresses had to play, it’s a bit of a memory job having to keep up with whose playing who yet the psychological thriller and slasher-type performance is easy on the mark; the audience do not need to know the finer details of the plot to understand what’s going on.
The Royal mother and Son: Kristin Milward &
James Askill
Fake blood, paint, ink or any form of liquid is devoid on the Rose’s stage; yet it is just as effectively spilled through plenty of red, yellow and white confetti - it never runs out. I had the privilege of being showered by red confetti, myself, when a baby –made out of cloth- was slashed in Ella Road’s arms.  
Kristin Milward bestowed an evil queen and she made this apparent from the outset with her husky voice and Cruella De Vil demeanour. David Meunier-Palmer’s coordination of light is an important element to this production as used in the Duke of Guise’s dark monologue. John Gregor owns the stage at this point swinging his golden cross medallion whilst repetitively sneering the word ‘religion.’ When he depicts violence or self-pity, by parallelling Guise with Julius Caesar, he retains a sense of malice, which continually surges in his gripping, yet obnoxious character. 
John Gregor as the Duke of Guise
James Askill and Rhys Bevan were recently in the Rose’s production of The Woman in the Moon, also directed by James Wallace, which was welcoming to see. Askill retained the humour he had as a shepherd, from the previous play, yet his moments as the stern and royal Henry III were riveting and hair-raising. He seemed comfortable with Marlow’s text and knew when to drop the comedy. Bevan, on the other hand, had less dialogue as the King of Navarre yet, I felt, his words had little conviction; this king seemed, almost, clueless and indifferent about the massacre where there should have been inklings of remorse.
Overall, all cast members did a brilliant job of handling this multidimensional and wordy play.  With screaming, bodies being dragged on the floor and a shocking scene where we watch a cardinal get strangled to death in a space of a minute, I'd say, it’s definitely worth a look into if you haven't seen the The Massacre before. Don't be surprised when you hear Tarantinoesque music playing in the background as it fits in too well with the frantic mob and confetti bloodbath scenery. Midway through the play Guise stamps on a dummy head twenty times; but don't be put off - I found it rather funny, even if it wasn't meant to be.
Slasher movie? No, it's Christopher Marlow's Massacre at Paris



The Production takes place at The Rose Playhouse, Southwark until the 26th October. Click here for more details. Click here if to read more Rose Playhouse reviews.