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Lazarus Theatre Company Presents Tamburlaine the Great at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 29th Aug 2015 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

Give me a map and let me see how much is left to conquer all the world!

Lazarus Theatre Company is committed to bringing classical theatre to a modern audience by fusing movement, music and text in a re-imagination of some of the greatest works. This season the company focuses on the Elizabethan / Jacobean era. After presenting an all-female Henry V, the company now tackles Christopher Marlowe's most epic work.

Marlowe's drama in two parts recounts the brutal rise to power of the 14th century Central Asian conquerer Timur, or Tamburlaine. This epic work would warrant two separate productions but Ricky Dukes has cut it down to 2 hours 40 minutes, concentrating on the first part of the epos.

The Persian emperor Mycetes dispatches troops to put a stop to Tamburlaine, a Scythian shepherd and nomadic bandit who creates some irritation with his gang of bandits. Mycetes is a weak ruler with little support from his nobles. His brother Cosroe despises him and his apathy and intends to take the throne for himself, with the support of Menaphon. Tamburlaine's troops, dressed in track suits and tank tops unlike the smartly dressed Persian army, is loyal to their charismatic leader: "Even to death we follow Tamburlaine!" Unlike Mycetes, who has inherited his power, Tamburlaine has fought his way up, rising from a simple shepherd to the leader of a victorious army. The loyalty of his fighters is absolute, with Techelles (Kate Austen) and Usumcasane (Adam Cunis) being his right hand men. In the end even Mycetes' only support, his advisor Menander, jumps ship and sides with Cosroe. The victorious Tamburlaine now focuses on Turkey and her arrogant Emperor Bajazeth. Meanwhile Tamburlaine has captured Zenocrate, the daughter of the Egyptian king, who has fallen in love with the charismatic leader. When faced with Mycetes' army, Tamburlaine promises Cosroe the Persian throne in exchange for his support. Cosroe is swayed and betrays Mycetes. Once Tamburlaine has defeated Mycetes he takes control of the Persian Empire himself reneging on his promise to Cosroe.

The stage is bare except for a row of chairs in the background with two piles of books. Tamburlaine is on the move. A company of men marches onto the stage, accompanied by tribal tunes, using aggressive gestures and steps to indicate that they are fighting a war. Women in shawls are running away from the aggressors but others join the band of warriors. Although the Tristan Bates Theatre offers only little space, Lazarus succeeds in transporting the battles to the venue. Weapons and hand to hand combat are not needed to create an aggressive atmosphere of war and conquest. As Tamburlaine's army marches on, it encounters a variety of people reflected in their attire and movement. The costume design by Rachel Dingle demonstrates how Tamburlaine's tagrag soldiers, dressed in tracksuits and tank tops change to a professional army clad in smart suits, resemlbing the defeated Persians. Neil McKeown's sound design adds to the reality of the battles being fought and won. 

Prince Plockey rules the day as the charismatic Tamburlaine whose ambition drives him to try and conquer the world. Yet he also has a sensitive, loving side as he woos the Egyptian princess Zenocrate and wins her love. Alex Reynolds gives a touching portrayal as Zenocrate as she is fascinated by her captor/lover but also feels compassion for his victims.

The first part of the production is a triumph, telling the story of Tamburlaine in a concise and exciting manner, skilfully directed by Ricky Dukes and Gavin Harrington-Odredra. However, the second part, which has been cut down to 40 minutes, feels rushed. Tamburlaine's sons never make an appearance and it feels like too much has been lost to turn this into a round production and a convincing narrative.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 12th September 2015

Tristan Bates Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including an interval




  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 2 years ago
    Thanks, Carolin. We expect so much from Lazarus. Every work is ambitious. A shame this one proved to be a game of two halves.
  • Carolin Kopplin
    by Carolin Kopplin 2 years ago
    Shaping such an epic play - in two parts - into one production is difficult. I think Lazarus have brought much to the play including gender blind casting.
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