13 February 2014, Varsity Online Theatre Section
It’s always good to see a little-performed play make it to the stage, especially when it is by somebody as revered as Christopher Marlowe, and this production of The Massacre at Paris appears promising at the outset. Entering the ADC Theatre you confront a figure draped in dense black shadow, sitting at a desk facing away from you. The atmosphere of bureaucratic callousness is palpable. But this production doesn’t quite deliver on its promise of icy tension. For an event said to make the Seine run with blood, it comes to feel oddly bloodless as it goes on.
The action centres on the Duc of Guise (Ruth O’Connell Brown) and the French royal establishment, including Catherine de Medici (Rebecca Hare). It takes place during the 1572 St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of France’s Huguenot minority, and the wars of religion which ensued.
The massacre at Paris was underwhelming, and part of this problem lies with the play itself. It certainly lacks some of the linguistic elegance and punch Marlowe invested in Doctor Faustus and, for a play that is only an hour in length, it attempts too much in covering around a decade of some of the most turbulent years in French history. It moves far too rapidly, and the scenes are so brief that it is impossible to develop any sort of attachment to the characters, or for the production to rack up the ambience to the menacing undertones it requires.
The performances in the play were certainly solid, but inclined to feeling under-performed and somewhat detached from the drama. Unfortunately it was difficult to judge O’Connell Brown’s performance: she appeared to be suffering from a sore throat in a part which demanded speeches screamed to the heavens, boiling over with hate, bitterness and disgust. By the end of the play her voice was quite done for. As a whole the production did not produce any stand-out performances, and occasionally the cast appeared to lack conviction in their roles.
At times the play did come to life in the way it used the stage and theatre to include the audience in the shock and horror, and induced them to feel fear during some of the more violent scenes. The modern-day setting enabled some of the speeches to be communicated as news reporting on loudspeakers or radios: this was highly effective and an interesting nod to what the play must have originally been, namely, propaganda.
All in all, this outing of Marlowe’s play was partially limited by Marlowe himself, but the performers did not feel fully invested in the drama which, although solid enough, only occasionally glimmered.