RSC Tamburlaine Review

The RSC’s Tamburlaine

Jude Owusu as Tamburlaine
Jude Owusu as Tamburlaine. Photo copyright of the RSC.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has produced at Stratford-on-Avon’s Swan Theatre an impressive Tamburlaine. It is gripping and fast-moving, without losing any of the poetry or meaning.

Jude Owusu, who plays Tamburlaine, is a tall black actor who dominates the stage whenever he appears on it, especially when wearing a glittering gold crown. His towering figure well presents both the monstrous and the magnetically-attractive sides of Tamburlaine.

Rosy McEwen is Zenocrate and she and the many others in the cast are all good.

Part One of the plays is performed before the interval, with Part Two after it. Some cuts give a total performance time of three and a half hours (including the interval).

My guess is that the production will not transfer to London as it would need considerable adaptation from the Swan’s layout to the Barbican theatre. So, see it at Stratford-on-Avon if you can!

Review by Valerie Colin-Russ.

Show Info

Dates:  From now until 1 December 2018.
Running Time: 3 hours 2 minutes + 20 minute interval
Book Tickets

Marlowe Lecture 24th November

Marlowe Lecture 24th November

This year’s Marlowe Lecture will take place at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames at 5 pm, on Saturday, the 24th November.

We are very pleased to say that the lecture will be given by Professor Frank Whately and will be about Marlowe and Edward Alleyn.  Those who heard Frank at the Marlowe-Shakespeare Conference in Kingstom last November will testify to his brilliance as a communicator. Moreover, the approaching publication of his book on Alleyn makes the event all the more enticing.

More details will be coming soon.

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Christopher Marlowe feature film in the works!

Christopher Marlowe feature film in the works!

A new, epic feature film about Christopher Marlowe, perhaps best remembered as William Shakespeare’s friend and rival, is in the works from British crime film director Greg Hall and producer Gary Kurtz, who is best known for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Marlowe, while a student at Cambridge University, becomes a spy for the crown and the greatest playwright of his day, but the much darker truth involves real-life intrigue, politics, religion and espionage. Today (May 30) is the 425th anniversary of the tragic early death of Marlowe on this date in 1593, at the age of 29, which has long been assumed to have been because of a fight between friends over a bar bill. In reality, due to his involvement in secret affairs, he was assassinated as a matter of state policy.

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Christopher Marlowe feature film in the works!

A new, epic feature film about Christopher Marlowe, perhaps best remembered as William Shakespeare’s friend and rival, is in the works from British crime film director Greg Hall and producer Gary Kurtz, who is best known for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Marlowe, while a student at Cambridge University, becomes a spy for the crown and the greatest playwright of his day, but the much darker truth involves real-life intrigue, politics, religion and espionage. May 30th was the 425th anniversary of the tragic early death of Marlowe on this date in 1593, at the age of 29, which has long been assumed to have been because of a fight between friends over a bar bill. In reality, due to his involvement in secret affairs, he was assassinated as a matter of state policy.

The script, by Francis Hamit, details the Elizabethan-era poet and playwright’s other career as a spy for the Crown as part of the early English Secret Service that fought a bitter war with Catholics who wanted Elizabeth I assassinated and Mary, Queen of Scots, placed on the throne instead. Even after Mary was executed, the threat persisted and there was not a day for the rest of her life that Elizabeth did not fear death at Catholic hands. The result was one of the most oppressive tyrannies in history, as Elizabeth’s government sought to control every aspect of English life and culture through law and regulation and enforced the government’s policies through an extensive system of spies and censorship. Marlowe’s own rebellion included preaching atheism and openly bragging about his own homosexuality at a time when other men were burned at the stake for it.

The most famous playwright of his day, he was too well-known and popular to be tried and executed publicly; Queen Elizabeth ordered him secretly assassinated by his fellow secret service agents. Only recently have academic researchers uncovered the truth.

“Marlowe is a tragic figure, undone by his own fatal flaws,” Francis Hamit said. “Despite the passage of time, it is a story which will resonate with today’s audiences.”

Greg Hall added, “The storyline is quite dynamic. It’s more about the secret underworld of spies and criminals that Kit Marlowe embraced at the same time he was social climbing with very prominent men such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Walsingham, the Secretary of State, and the most powerful man in England. It is going to be a very exciting production and we are casting it now.”

Plans are to make the film mostly in Wales this fall. North American distribution has been assigned to Lightyear Entertainment in Los Angeles. Among Lightyear’s theatrical releases was Tanna, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2017.

Arnie Holland, Lightyear’s CEO, is an Executive Producer of the film. Other Executive Producers include Michael John Donahue and Craig Miller, CEO of Wolfmill Entertainment.

Director Greg Hall came to early notice with his breakthrough debut drama The Plague, made on a shoestring budget but eliciting the support of industry stalwarts such as Mike Leigh who awarded Hall the Katrin Cartlidge Foundation scholarship. He has gone on to make a name for himself as an independent filmmaker on the rise with six feature films under his belt and a growing domestic and international audience. Hall specializes in strong dramatic performances, visual flare and often a focus in the crime genre.

Producer Gary Kurtz is an American film producer whose list of credits includes American Graffiti, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Crystal and Return to Oz.

Writer Francis Hamit is a graduate of the world-famous Iowa Writers Workshop, has published two historical spy novels set at the time of the American Civil War and is working on a memoir about military intelligence during the Vietnam War. After Christopher Marlowe, his next project will be a film or limited-run television series about Belle Boyd, the protagonist in Hamit’s 2008 novel The Shenandoah Spy.

Canterbury Marlowe Day – May 2018

On a bright May morning we gathered in the foyer of The Marlowe Theatre and then made our way to The Marlowe Kit, where the Chairman, Professor Ken Pickering, informed us that Marlowe would have walked past the former Poor Priests’ Hospital, as his only extant signature was found in the building next door. Ken then read one of Marlowe’s lesser-known but charming poems: ‘I walk’d along a stream, for pureness rare.’ This was very fitting as The Kit is next to the river Stour, and we later threw flowers and rosemary into the water in his memory.


One of the highlights of the day was listening to sections of Purcell’s ‘The Faerie Queen’ by the Marlowe Consort led by John Perfect. The libretto is an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the music was used independently of the play during scene changes, as they didn’t normally raise the curtain between acts. The fairies were originally played by 8-year olds, and it was possible to imagine them dancing on the stage to the lively melody.

Acting Shakespeare by Frank Barrie

It was a real treat and a great pleasure to hear Frank Barrie give a talk about some of the highlights of his long and distinguished acting career. Frank has worked with the most iconic names in British theatre, starred in 36 productions of Shakespeare plays in 67 countries, was a leading member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company at the Old Vic, and has made over 200 TV appearances.

Frank said that he admires Shakespeare because he expresses every emotion in the most beautiful and exact language, and his characters are so alive and real, more so than many people we meet. He particularly enjoyed playing Hamlet because everyone can identify with him. Similarly, the story of Macbeth’s rise and fall has connected with audiences in many places over the last 400 years. For example, Frank told us about his performance of Macbeth in Baghdad during the rule of Saddam Hussein. At first, the audience did not take the play very seriously; they were shouting, joining in, walking in front of the stage and responding to impressive acting points. However, when they realised what the play was about and how it related to their own lives, they went quiet and there was a huge applause at the end. The next day crowds of people arrived to see the performance, as word of its significance had spread quickly. Unfortunately, the secret police were in the audience this time, and the company was forbidden from performing the Scottish play again because it was considered to be too dangerous – a sign of the extraordinary power of Shakespeare to communicate with modern audiences.

On a lighter note, Frank gave a series of fantastic performances and entertaining anecdotes about an onstage swordfight that went wrong, a bomb exploding outside the theatre, and a collapsing bed!


Lunch was served at an excellent restaurant in a peaceful riverside setting.

Grotowski directs Dr Faustus by Professor Paul Allain

Paul Allain started his informative talk by describing the different phases of the Polish film director’s career and the ideas behind his work, in particular ‘Poor Theatre’, which focuses simply on the relationship between the actor and spectator. Actors trained in this method concentrate less on techniques and more on revealing their true selves through the role.

Paul explained that people were astounded by Grotowski’s ground-breaking production of Doctor Faustus in 1963 and it received mixed reviews, with one British critic finding it ‘uncomfortable’. The 9 minute film of the play helped us to understand why it was so challenging: the rehearsals and performance were clearly very physically and emotionally taxing for the actors, and the spectators were in an intimate space with the protagonist, for example sitting at tables at Faustus’ Last Supper. Faustus was played as a blasphemous, Christ-like figure. The film captured the sinister atmosphere in the theatre, and many of us were struck by the way Mephistopheles was presented as an ambiguous mixture of male and female, good and evil. It is clearly still a very thought-provoking production!

Directing Edward II – a discussion with Ricky Dukes and Dr Geoff Doel

Ricky Dukes is the Artistic Director of the Lazarus Theatre Company and he recently directed Edward II at venues including the Greenwich Theatre. Many members of the Society had seen the performances, but there were photos for those who hadn’t. Ricky talked us through how the company made decisions about the staging of Marlowe’s history play, for instance the creative ideas they considered and rejected and the conversations about which sections to cut or include in the 90 minutes running time. They decided on a Brechtian design, set in the context of harsh, masculine, brutal England, and the relationship between Edward and Gaveston was portrayed in a sympathetic light.

Geoff Doel started the discussion by asking Ricky to explain some of his directing choices. Geoff disagreed with many of those choices, and this sparked a larger, robust debate with Ken, Jo and members of the audience. The discussion was essentially about ‘modern’ vs ‘traditional’ staging and interpretations, and it continued well after Marlowe Day had finished! Drama is based on conflict, so this was a very apt end to the day!

Event Gallery

Canterbury Marlowe Day - May 2018

Re-release Derek Jarman’s ‘Edward II’

Edward II to be re-released

The rights to the 1991 drama, Edward II by Derek Jarman, have been nabbed by distributor; Film Movement. They are set to give this fantastic story, based on the 16th century play, a limited theatrical run in North America and a release on digital formats.

The film stars Steven Waddington and Tilda Swinton in modern day England as Edward II and Isabella respectivley. The film centres around Britian’s only openly gay monarch, originally written as a play by our very own Christopher Marlowe.

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Hero and Her Paper Navy

Hero and Her Paper Navy

Join Hero, an intrepid Elizabethan explorer, as she takes on a nautical adventure in search of new worlds, treasured words and long-lasting friendship. Based loosely on Christopher Marlowe’s epic poem, Hero and Leander, there is no better time to introduce today’s kids to yesterday’s masterpieces in a fun-filled educational journey.

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London Marlowe Day, 24th February 2018

London Marlowe Day took place on the 24th February, 2018 at the King & Queen Pub in London. After the AGM of the Marlowe Society, there were several interesting talks, sharing of information and news items, and a delicious fish and chips lunch.


We commenced with reports from members of the committee and then moved on to the election of officers. The details of the elections can be found in the Chairman’s Spring Letter. Ken Pickering filled us in on exciting plans to move our library at Faversham to the new Marlowe Kit in Canterbury. We also heard from Julian Ng about his ideas for the future of the website, including how he will be using his marketing expertise to help promote and raise funds for the Society.

Malcolm Elliott’s Christopher Shakespeare: the man behind the plays

Following the AGM, Malcolm Elliott, historian, lecturer, Quaker and Marlowe Society member gave a talk about his book Christopher Shakespeare: the man behind the plays. Elliott explained that Marlowe did not die in Deptford in 1593, but lived the rest of his life undercover, and wrote the sonnets and plays normally attributed to Shakespeare when he was in exile abroad. Some sonnets appear to describe Marlowe’s feelings on his travels across Europe, as he laments the loss of his friends and Walsingham in particular. Elliott also asserts in the book that only someone with intimate knowledge of the French court of Navarre and cities in northern Italy could have written Love’s Labour’s Lost, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice. One particularly intriguing claim is that no one in England knew of Don Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracciano’s presence in England until two weeks before Twelfth Night was performed for him and the Queen on 6 January 1601, so it is inconceivable that Shakespeare could have written it at such short notice. It seems more likely that Marlowe, who was probably in the service of Bracciano and knew of the visit in advance, wrote the play. If Marlowe accompanied the trip to England, he would have been in disguise for his own safety, and disguise is a familiar theme in plays thought to be written by Shakespeare.

After the talk, there was a question and answer session. However, the end of the talk felt like a beginning for me, as I’m sure the book could stimulate more research, particularly on who was working at the famous French and Italian courts when these plays were written.

Fish and Chip lunch

The lunch was enjoyed by all and was a great opportunity to discuss ideas about the forward-thinking plans for the Society outlined in the AGM and also the implications of Malcolm’s book.

Dr Ildiko Solti’s talk: ‘The Politics of the Bear-Pit: Marlowe and Shakespeare in shared light’

Dr Solti, a long-standing member of the Marlowe Society and Fellow of Kingston University, explored how Marlowe and Shakespeare used theatrical space and how they worked the audience.

Ildiko started her talk by explaining how animal baiting pits full of blood and adrenaline in the morning were transformed into theatres in the afternoon. The level of excitement remained in the theatre because it was (and still is) a marked space with daily life outside and different rules inside. During the talk we were encouraged to really think about how we might explore a space when we enter into it, like a curious but apprehensive animal would when it comes out of its hole and looks around a new area. In a theatre we can experience that primitive ‘fight or flight’ instinct because as an audience member you could feel uncomfortable – perhaps as a confidante, implicated in the action, or you may feel provoked by the action. Marlowe seems to enjoy stretching and challenging his audience by a preference for the outrageous, and involving them in impossible-to-solve moral dilemmas.

Dr Solti suggested that a great way of fully understanding what it was like to walk into an Elizabethan theatre and enjoy the feeling of being immersed it, is to watch the film Shakespeare in Love. The theatrical space is so important because it shapes the meaning of the play and, of course, the most important moment can be inarticulate. Similarly, movement can construct meaning, rather than just be illustrative of it. The talk was a real eye-opener and it helped us to understand that Marlowe was a true master of space, not just the mighty line.

International developments

During the day we heard about performances of Doctor Faustus at the University of Malta and in Brazil. Marlowe’s fame is clearly growing around the world! It was also interesting to hear about the new Shakespeare Theatre in Gdańsk, Poland, which is built on the site of a 17th century theatre, known as the Fencing School, where English travelling players performed.

Event Photos

Professor Ken Pickering (centre) with Malcolm Elliot (holding his book ‘Christopher Shakespeare’) and Dr Ildiko Solti.

Dr Ildiko Solti presenting an interesting insight into how theatres worked in Elizabethan times.

A representative sharing all the exciting changes for The Rose Theatre Bankside.


Canterbury Marlowe Day 2018

Canterbury Marlowe Day 2018

Saturday 12th May

Canterbury Marlowe Day 2018 will once boast an exciting programme of academic and theatrical speakers, including the great actor Frank Barrie, who played his first Shakespearean role in 1959. The day will also include the traditional laying of a floral tribute at the Marlowe Memorial outside the New Marlowe Theatre. Full details of the day’s itinerary and how to purchase tickets will be announced shortly.

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