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Ah the Tudors, with their sweet, musical writing, their lusty physicality, and their bloody political intrigues. Complete with scrotum-fluff beards and immaculate tights, they were real men. One was once always guaranteed a good show with this material, but ever since the Irish finally exacted their revenge upon King Henry VIII’s court via Michael Hirst’s abysmal television series, the Tudors have become a suspicious lot – too often called upon to satisfy an undemanding love for historical romance.

The Five One Productions’ “thriller,” “The Demise of Christopher Marlowe,” which is written by Sarah Goddard and staged in C Central, takes a familiar story, but tells it on the whole very well. Timothy Bond’s Marlowe is a dashing, charming prince of a man, who naively believes that he is invincible, or at least far beyond the dangers of politics, because he is a poet. This is very much the Marlowe of myth rather than of history. How splendid it would be to accompany this Marlowe on his student spying adventures, or to be at his elbow whilst he was writing Hero and Leander, but unfortunately we meet him in the final days of his life.

Aside from Marlowe, everybody on the stage and in the theatre knows that he is going to die (the clue is in the title), and an enjoyment of the play is mildly spoiled by one’s guilt at looking forward to this young man’s death. That said, after an hour’s wait, this event could have been a bit more visually spectacular, with slashed veins and snorts of blood. When dragged off the stage, the dead poet left only a streak of sweat behind him.

It is inconceivable that this Marlowe could have lived any longer – his poetic sensibility and anti-authoritarianism casts him as the lamb in Wolf Hall. The most agreeable thing about this play is the way in which the friendship between Marlowe and his friend, and possible lover, Thomas Kyd, ultimately survives the apparent evidence that Marlowe betrayed Kyd to the authorities. Sean Turner provides a solid, officious Robert Poley, whose sole satisfaction in life seems to be the pleasure that he takes in pronouncing his own name. The Queen Elizabeth of the piece is a nasty little pig, although in her wiser moments she seems aware that she is a prisoner of her own state. She frets that she is growing paranoid, whilst Poley’s promises to keep the virgin Queen safe make him sound like a malevolent chaperone. Art outlives politics, however, and the show ends with the repentant Thomas Walsingham determined to keep Marlowe in print.

[The cast sing about Marlowe here. Ed]

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