Thursday, August 19, 2010

Edinburgh Fringe - Christopher Marlowe meets Green Eggs and Hamlet

The Demise of Christopher Marlow

I hoped this play would be interesting. Given how much Shakespeare-related stuff I seem to be seeing, I thought it would be good to expand to other writers of the era. Sadly, this play just evoked a resounding ‘meh’.

The theory behind the show (and I have no idea how much of this is based on fact, knowing absolutely nothing about Christopher Marlowe that wasn’t covered in Shakespeare in Love) is that Christopher Marlowe was a spy who knew too much. Another spy, this one with royal connections, felt threatened by Marlowe’s knowledge and plotted to have him killed.

Basically, they threatened to take him to Deptford to kill him and… they took him to Deptford and killed him. Not that the tension was ever going to come from that corner – we all know how he died.

They tried to drum up some tension about whether he would betray Thomas Kyd, with whom they implied Marlowe was having an affair, but that storyline never really came together.

And… there just wasn’t much else there. The plot felt a bit straight-line-ish. The blurb made a big deal about maybe Queen Elizabeth was behind Marlowe’s murder, but her involvement in the action was limited. The plotter wrote her letters saying ‘this man is a danger and should be killed’ and she wrote back and said ‘ok, kill him then’.

The man playing Christopher Marlowe was quite good, with lots of energy. The others were mediocre, apart from Thomas Kyd who was bad, but thought he was good.

I wanted to like it, but in the end I just didn’t care.

Green Eggs and Hamlet

I so wanted to love this play. I completely fell in love with the idea of it. I mean, listen to the blurb: “Rome had Carthage, Holmes had Moriarty, and now, Hamlet has Dr. Seuss. Shakespeare’s classic tale of death, deception and madness told in the style of the beloved Dr. Seuss. Shakespeare is weeping in his grave.”

Sadly, the concept was far, far funnier than the play itself.

Firstly, their idea of ‘Dr. Seuss rhyme’ was broadened to include ‘any rhyming couplet’, and I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough. Dr. Seuss has a very specific metre (“I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam-I-am”), and they ignored that and just jammed any number of syllables into their lines.

Secondly, there were random passages of actual Shakespeare left in there for no real reason. And I have to say, they’re not exactly two styles that mesh well.

Thirdly, they didn’t know whether they were trying to be funny or serious, and various actors swung back and forth between the extremes. Either you’re parody and you go all the way, or you take the bizarre and play it straight, but this was all over the place.

Lastly, the only actor who could act at all was Hamlet himself. He did quite a good job, expertly walking the line between being funny and taking it seriously. As for the rest… at least two of them were abjectly terrible, having clearly never acted before in their lives. The other two were your average amateur actors.

There were individual moments of cleverness and humour (Ophelia’s “I like the flowers, I like the daffodils” madness speech actually got a snort of laughter from me), but not nearly enough to sustain a 50-minute-long show.

It did make me think, though, that a one-man show, telling the story of Hamlet using the rhyme and structure of one or more Dr. Seuss books could potentially be hilarious. It would, however, have to be a lot smarter than Green Eggs and Hamlet.

A disappointment.

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