Theatre: The Massacre at Paris/The Jew of Malta  

Canterbury Cathedral/Marlowe Theatre
Reviews by Lesley Finlay

A trio of productions from Fourth Monkey Theatre Company were so good, so different that everyone should have a chance to see them. Using young, actors in training, each director was able to present the dark tales with a modern twist that surely collected many converts to Christopher Marlowe’s work.

First to The Massacre of Paris; a stroke of genius, good fortune and good contacts enabled this ambitious group to play it in the ghostly crypt of Canterbury Catherdral; the incongruously holy site to the violent tale of the St Batholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots by Catholics in Paris in 1572. The large audience filed silently to its seats; above us the beautiful Antony Gormley Transport statue floated above, as if a lost soul floating to heaven. The candlelit set plunged us all to the 16th Century.

The original play is considered to have been complied by actors so directors Andrew Dawson and Paul Allain gave themselves room to tell this bloody tale of how religion led to one of the most shocking bloodbaths in history.

Here we have the Duke of Guise plotting against the Huguenots, in Paris for the nuptials of Henry of Navarre to Margaret, the French King’s sister. The first murder is that of Henry’s mother the Queen of Navarre, who dies through inhaling poisoned gloves; her terror at her death accompanied by a dreadful, loud rattle that echoes through the site.

The players were utterly engaged; the ancient words flowing from their mouths. It does seem mean to single out: but Alice Trow shone while Dan Chrisostomou was a hopeful Navarre And so the blood flowed; excellent movement, impeccable timing and while this was not an enjoyable play to watch it was powerful, moving theatre.

To The Jew of Malta, which used thumping music, excellent lighting and a simple scaffold of a set to tell this dark, dark tale. In Andrew Dawson’s lucid production, Barabas is a heartless, unlikeable monster, with few redeeming factors. The Jew’s revenge for losing his fortune to cover the tribute money owed by the Christian Governor of Malta gets more and more barbaric as he gradually loses his humanity.

But: the Christians and the Turks are equally vicious, heartless and partisan; seeking revenge, with greed the motivating factor. Indeed, all of humanity is flawed in the extreme. The wonderful cast did real justice to this beautifully balanced and complex play. I would have liked more ‘oomph’ from Barabas, but maybe his complete control and inscrutability enhanced his lack of humanity.

All in all, this tribute to Marlowe was excellent and imaginative. Must read, and must see again.