The tale of Dido, Queen of Carthage and her doomed passion for Trojan Aeneas was once familiar to every schoolchild forced to navigate Virgil in Latin lessons. Dido falls for Aeneas when he takes refuge on her shores in flight from the sack of Troy. But the gods decree he must tear himself away and continue his mission to found Rome - leaving the heartbroken Dido to build her own funeral pyre.
The story has inspired many retellings, including Purcell's opera and this 1580s play which Christopher Marlowe wrote for children, actually choirboys, to perform. At Shakespeare's Globe, director Tim Carroll and the creative team have picked up on this idea and bounced it around to delightful and thought-provoking effect.
In Laura Hopkin's bold children's playground, dominated by an arcing slide, all the production elements come together to create a world where the gods are dangerously capricious children toying with mortals like the hula hoops they bend in play. Donning outsize clothes, as if they'd raided a dressing-up box of adult gear, the immortals play rough and dirty with each other, and especially with humankind, changing shape at will to lead-on poor Dido, Queen of Carthage.
It's just as well Aeneas is Venus' son, for Juno is after him and his little son and her murderous plots are only just foiled by that most glamorous of grannies.Clare Swinburne's Venus flounces deliciously in Alma-Tadema robes set offwith a giant feather boa and she and Caitlin Mottram's catty Queen of immortals make a memorably Ab Fab pair.
James Garnon is suitably naughty as Cupid, maliciously and repeatedly shooting arrows at Dido to make her fall for Aeneas and neglect her worthy lover Iarbas (fiery Dave Fishley)
Musical Director Claire van Kampen and three versatile musicians literally underscore the playfulness. Cast as gods themselves, their instruments include vibraphone, marimba and glockenspiel - and they come down to earth to rifle the toy box for fun instruments like kazoos.
They may be dominated by the gods, but Will Keen's Aeneas and Rakie Ayola's Dido memorably dominate the stage. Keen has a stillness and authority that hold the audience rapt, especially as he describes the bloody fall of Troy, in language that proves Marlowe's poetic genius. Ayola is ardent in love and despair - and touching as she lights sparklers to symbolise her fiery end. This play is one neglected toy that deserves dusting off.
- Judi Herman