Sitting in the ancient remains of the Rose theatre surrounded by candles, wrapped in blankets and drinking tea, is certainly an extraordinary setting for a night at the theatre watching House on the Hill Productions’ Dido, Queen of Carthage.
Christopher Marlowe’s play is a classic love triangle – with some extra help from the gods, Jupiter and Venus. Dido, an eligible Queen, is being pursued by numerous suitors but the one we follow in this production is Iarbas. She begins to come around to the idea of favouring him but the Gods have other plans.
Dressing Cupid up as the child of her son Aeneas, a Trojan war hero, Venus manages to change the direction of Dido’s affections. Aeneas, although enjoying the attention he is receiving, soon realises he must return to war and decides to leave Carthage. Dido is left heartbroken and realises her only option to escape her torment is suicide. A plethora of suicides ensue as Iarbas discovers the one he loves dead, followed by Dido’s sister Anna, who is in love with Iarbas, doing the same.
Rhiannon Sommers as Dido is a cut above the rest of the cast and keeps the action flowing. She’s engaging, relaxed and interprets the text well to ensure some of the more awkward language is very easy to understand and follow. Her portrayal of a lovesick teenager is in stark contrast to her previously strong and independent queen. This is played brilliantly and she is convincing throughout. On the other hand, some of the other actors do not pull this off quite so well and a few of the more emotive scenes describing the war don’t quite have the intended impact.
Clearly limited by the space, the cast and directors (Alex Pearson and Jeremy Smith) do a good job with this somewhat dated play. The humourous scenes are played well and receive laughs, while the intense lust between Dido and Aeneas (James Burgess) is believable. However, the final death scene seems rushed and, with the audience so close, difficult to do convincingly.
Although this is quite an old-fashioned production, it doesn’t feel out of place, especially when set in such a wonderful theatre. For Rhiannon Sommer’s acting alone and the indisputably beautiful and atmospheric surroundings, this production is worth a watch.