Review: Tamburlaine, Arcola Theatre

“I mean to be a terror to the world”

I’m fully on board with Yellow Earth Theatre’s objectives of identifying and investing in British East Asian emerging and established actors, writers and directors, so it does pain me a little that their production of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine didn’t quite do it for me. Director Ng Choon Ping has spun a highly theatrical adaptation out of one of the earliest plays to be considered a public success, but its inventive ambition works against its dramatic effectiveness.

In Moi Tran’s spare design, a company of six cover more than twenty roles in this compression of the saga of the Central Asian emperor Timur on whose life it is based. And with the design being so minimal, the constant multi-roling becomes dizzying, projected captions not quite doing enough. Additionally, given that five of the six are women, there’s a layer of gender fluidity which is thought-provoking in this extremely masculine world but ultimately under-explored.

Lourdes Faberes’ Timburlaine is a visceral central presence, full of menace and power but undercutting the barbaric behaviour of a shepherd-turned-warrior who conquered many kingdoms with flashes of humour and tenderness. And Joji Hirota’s live percussion matches her intensity. But it is all rather bloodless, deaths and suicides are tamely presented and no matter how well the text is spoken, it is dense and intense without ever being truly stirring.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Robert Workman
Booking until 8th April


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