Tamburlaine the Great, Part I by Christopher Marlowe
Directed by Sam Shammas
Cochrane Theatre, Covent Garden
Tuesday 12th - Saturday 23rd January 1999, 7.30pm
"The wheel of history is turning again in this fabled city of Samarkand built by the 14th-century tyrant, Tamerlane, with the spoils of a lifetime of bloody conquest. The images of Lenin are coming down and the city fathers are busy erecting instead statues to the man the playwright Christopher Marlowe described as ‘scourge of God and terror of the world’. A splendid 20-foot statue in bronze, complete with sword, shield and helmet, is being cast this week. Three other images of Tamerlane are due to follow... already a street named after Frunze, the bolshevik general who brought his own brand of terror to central Asia, has been renamed Tamerlane Prospekt... Tamerlane’s tomb, just beyond the main tourist hotel, has now become more than just a tourist sight. These days elderly uzbeks can be seen crouched in prayer beside the plain black sarcophagus. They worship him as a great man and as a saint.
The story goes that when the body was exhumed, three old men appeared at a tea-house where the gravediggers were resting and warned them not to proceed. Sure enough, when his coffin was opened, they found written inside the threat that ‘whoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I’. A day later, on June 22 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union."
"Director Sam Shammas' admirable and pertinent resurrection of part one of Marlowe's fascinating two parter deploys a small cast in this unkindly proportioned, slightly cold space.
But these drawbacks are used to focus intelligently on the chilling linguistic subtleties of [the] play...
Unfolding on a spare set effectively bedecked with plastic dolls...Brendan Fleming portrays the hero as much more than a simple Renaissance over-reacher.
He perfectly captures Tamburlaine's manic calm and brings to the fore the former shepherd's ability to control his world through a masterly grasp of rhetoric, whether winning the loyalty of men or charming the pants off his wife, Catherine Harvey's Zenocrate.
On this evidence it seems Shammas could not revive the second part too soon."
A Scythian shepherd, Tamburlaine, rises by his martial conquests to become the most powerful man in the world. His victories come about not only by fearlessness in battle, but by a formidable command of persuasive rhetoric. Having seized Princess Zenacrate of Egypt, he goes on to overpower Persia, Turkey (placing its humiliated Emperor in a cage for his follower's edification), Damascus and Arabia. Only his love for Zenocrate stops Tamburlaine short of slaughtering her father, the Soldan of Egypt.
The 14th century Mongol conqueror Timur, on whom Marlowe based his hero, ordered the decapitation of a million men and used their heads to construct a slowly rotting monument to his own greatness. Originally Marlowe had no intention of following what we now call 'Tamburlaine Part I' with a sequel, and only did so when public acclaim demanded it. The intention of this first episode, taken on its own terms, seems to be to ask of his audience some disturbing questions concerning the apparent failure of heaven to strike down a man so brutal, so blasphemous and so unrepentant.
KING OF ARABIA
DIRECTOR & DESIGNER
Sam Shammas Productions
"I will with engines, never exercised,
Conquer, sack and utterly consume
Your cities and your golden palaces,
And with the flames that beat against the clouds
Incense the heavens, and make the stars to melt,
And till by vision or by speech I hear
Immortal jove say, cease my Tamburlaine,
I will persist a terror to the world."
return to front page