Tamburlaine, Arcola Theatre, review: ‘Gloriously vivid gory epic’

Lourdes Faberes in Tamburlaine. Picture: Robert Workman

Lourdes Faberes in Tamburlaine. Picture: Robert Workman - Credit: Robert Workman Photographer

Lourdes Faberes plays Tamburlaine while five actors (one man and four women, all of British-Asian descent) tackle multiple roles in a stylish venture with a minimal set

In Marlowe’s gory epic, based on the life of the fourteenth century emperor – and the first play ever written in blank verse - Tamburlaine proudly calls himself the “scourge of God”.

But he’s not a tyrant in the Shakespearean mould, given to regretful introspection. A force of nature, it’s his drive for power that director Ng Choon Ping places under the microscope in Yellow Earth’s ambitious cross-gender staging, the 7-hour original reduced to a bracing 160 minutes.

Lourdes Faberes plays Tamburlaine while five actors (one man and four women, all of British-Asian descent) tackle multiple roles. It’s a stylish venture with a minimal set, with designer Moi Tran using a white Japanese-style sliding door as a screen for projections of dates and names.

Sometimes the facts help you follow the action but the condensed text threatens to leave you giddy with concentration. Choon Ping’s decision to dress the II-khanate dynasty in contemporary jodhpurs like elite game-players hell-bent on trumping one another for power layers in a strong topical relevance.


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Leo Wan ekes out much humour from Marlowe’s coruscating wit as he morphs between ineffectual male roles and the portrayal of Tamburlaine’s son Calyphas grieving over his mother Zenocrate’s death (Fiona Hampton - impressive as the voice of reason) provides some much-needed tenderness in a production that favours pace over poetry.

With live Taiko drumming on stage to ratchet up the tension and some neat choreography to link potentially clunky transitions between yet more scenes of pomp-and-ceremony, this tale of a peasant’s rise and fall from iron-fisted emperor to besieged incumbent aims high. At times it’s overwhelming but when it works it’s gloriously vivid.

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Rating: 4/5 stars

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