Christopher Marlowe is forever fated to be associated with his peer and likely chum William Shakespeare. But whereas Shakespeare – at least, according to the accepted mythology – was the geek, the golden boy, the (sometime) family man, the yokel-boy-made-good: Marlowe has become reduced to being known as the spy; the counterspy; the reckless, glamorous, devil-may-care ‘rakehell’ whose brawl over a bar tab saw his own literary genius snuffed out at just 29.
Marlowe: the reckless, glamorous, devil-may-care ‘rakehell’ whose brawl over a bar tab saw his own literary genius snuffed out at just 29
In Matchmaker Theatre’s new play, Marlowe emerges from Shakespeare’s shadow to tell – or rather impose – his own tale upon young scholar Laura. She would prefer to be working on her thesis regarding the legacy of Bill’s works: Marlowe is rather keener that she learn once and for who actually penned those immortal lines.
The question of authorship regarding the thirty-seven extant Shakespearean plays is of course a happy hunting ground for historical conspiracy. As the play itself notes, the names which have been proposed over the years are legion, and the theories fantastic. This has proved fertile intellectual soil for academics, film-makers, and those with a book to sell but – as Laura herself wonders – does it really matter who put feather to parchment?
Well, in this dramatic conceit, it does. And one can certainly empathise with an iteration of Marlowe who is dragging four hundred years of mistaken identity around with him. Four hundred years and an infinity of reputational royalties.
As ‘Kit’ Marlowe, Nicholas Thorne is a deliciously louche onstage presence, convincingly drawing an initially sceptical Laura into the web of deceit which – he says – precludes him from being awarded his rightful place as the creator of some of the most beautiful verse ever written. To say more would be to give too much of it away: and the nicely-crafted script deserves its moments of dawning.
Thorne is ably supported by Kirsty Eila McIntyre, Adam Buksh and John Kielty in this confident, and well-loved piece, whose belief in itself and the vivid little world of meta theatre created by the cast and creatives is infectious.
Do you need to know all that much about the Bard of Avon to ‘get’ it? Not really, no. You might miss out on some of the smugger chuckles from an audience as delighted with their own scholarship as the unfolding plot… but that’s about it.
At the very heart of the piece lurks the eternally pondered niggle of the Elizabethan Metropolitan Elite: how on earth did a bumpkin such as Shakespeare have sufficient knowledge or experience of foreign climes to weave some of his most sweeping historical epics when he never ventured much beyond a cheeky bit of apple scrumping in his formative years? Well, you may need to dust off your Googling gloves: for this is a piece which may offer us one answer, but throws up lots and lots of new questions.