It being Halloween Eve (and yes, I know I’m making that up) a dose of the supernatural seemed in order. As one of the Golden Age Theatre monologues I have been working my way through is called Marlowe’s Ghost this seemed ideal. Alas, it was one of those occasions when not to be taken in by a title for it turned out to be nothing much to do with “ghosties, ghoulies and long leggity beasties” but rather a piece of literary history or at least conjecture about something which might or might not have happened in the past.
Tales From The Golden Age is well named on this occasion as we are transported back to 16th century England at the time of the flowering of Elizabethan drama. Our monologist is one Mr William Shakespeare who tells us about his association with another of the key dramatists of the era, Christopher Marlowe, who tore up several rule books about writing for the theatre and paved the way for the Bard himself. Whether they ever actually met is a matter of speculation, but writer Ian Dixon Potter has woven a tale of intrigue which suggests that they were inextricably linked as writers, friends and probably a good deal more. Both members of a secret society called The School Of Night, masterminded by Sir Walter Raleigh, they find themselves caught up in the politics of the day which involves spies, traitors and assassins. It is this which eventually leads to Marlowe’s murder in a Deptford Tavern – that bit is true enough but in real fan fiction style the play takes us through all the events which lead up to it. Some years later, Shakespeare has retired to Stratford upon Avon and finds himself haunted by the events and confesses to us that but for caution on his part things could very well have gone the same way for him. The monologue also attempts to provide answers to two questions which have eluded Bardists, i.e., why Shakespeare seemed less than keen to promote himself as the writer of his plays and why he suddenly retired for no apparent reason while still only middle aged.
The script is a reworking of Dixon Potter and Robert Pope’s 2015 play The Dead Shepherd – the title of which refers to Marlowe’s “shepherding” of his younger contemporaries. As such it doesn’t sit particularly easily in the sequence of Tales which have tended to concentrate on more contemporary concerns. It’s skilfully enough done but is forced to ditch the multi- charactered stage version and therefore loses much of the dynamism which the earlier incarnation presumably had. As the piece is longer than the general run of the others in the series and not subdivided into shorter scenes, it becomes a bit of an ask to concentrate on just the one voice and essentially one camera shot for the whole length.
That the voice is Shakespeare’s should, of course, be some compensation but I’m afraid to say I found Mark Shaer’s delivery uninspiring and sometimes just plain dull. There was a distinct tendency to pause mid-sentence when something “important” was about to be imparted and after a while I found myself keeping count of how many times that particular “trick” was used rather than listening to the words. It may also have subconsciously not helped that the actor looks nothing like WS – or at least looks nothing like our received understanding of how he looks. There’s been an attempt in the design/costuming to suggest the era in which the piece is being delivered but it all seems decidedly like a modern recreation rather than anything authentic; this could possibly have been enhanced with more attention paid to atmospheric lighting. The general theme tune for the series by Neil Thompson has been Elizabethanised in this instance though that just conjured up thoughts of Blackadder and Upstart Crow.
I’ve been enjoying my regular dips into this series but feel this one doesn’t really belong and is, all things considered, a bit of a mis-step; it would possibly have worked better as an audio piece. And, of course, it didn’t really fit the bill for a bit of Halloween horror either. Ah well, I’ll try again tomorrow on the day itself and hopefully I’ll have better (or perhaps I mean worse) luck.