Review of The Jew of Malta at RSC Swan Theatre

The Jew of MaltaIt’s amazing how a play written in 1589/90 can be so relevant in 2015. The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe is a play about the issues raised by religious beliefs and disagreements in religious beliefs, as well as problems with wealth and the theory of revenge.

This production starts the RSC’s 2015 Summer Season at a very high standard. Justin Audibert’s production brings Marlowe’s text to life in a style that is funny and heartfelt.

Not knowing the play at all and not knowing what to expect, that audience are immediately set at ease with the prologue, delivered with the house lights up by Machiavel (Simon Hedger) in modern clothing wearing a t-shirt with ‘Royal Marlowe Company’ written on the front. Prologues and ‘chorus’s’ were meant to be spoken by people who were or represented people who were on a similar class level to the audience, so it makes sense for this to be done in modern dress, and it works really well.

It introduces the plays’ central character, Barabas (Jasper Britton), a very wealthy Jewish man living in Malta. Britton’s performance is comedic and engaging. Though at times he is in the wrong when plotting revenge, the audience is fully on his side and wants him to succeed. Britton’s characterisation is complex, and the characters’ playful nature works well with the slightly sad undertones Britton plays so well.

When Ferneze (Steven Pacey), the Governor of Malta taxes all of the Jewish population ‘one half of his estate’, Barabas refuses and Ferneze demands for all of his possessions to be taken. Barabas plans revenge.

He uses his daughter Abigail (Catrin Stewart) to recover some of his wealth by means of her temporarily converting to Christianity. However when he orchestrates a fatal duel between two young suitors both after her love, she is heartbroken and consigns herself to a nunnery. Stewart’s performance and grief for the loss of her love (one of the young suitors) is honest and engaging. Though the character is only in the first half of the play, her performance is a memorable one and Barabas’s actions towards her later in the play make you question his sanity and true relationship with his daughter.

To further assist in revenge, Barabas buys a slave named Ithamore (Lanre Malaolu). The pair work together to poison the nuns and murder the friars. Malaolu’s Ithamore and Britton’s Barabas are a wonderful pair, like a comedy double act. They have a wonderful on stage chemistry and when Ithamore betrays Barabas, Barabas is suddenly alone. He has no daughter, lost his only friend and the rest of the Jewish population have abandoned him. You feel a great sympathy for him and this is down to the quality of character from Britton.

This is a fantastic production of very good play. Jasper Britton leads a very strong cast in a wonderful leading performance that I think will be enjoyed by all.

4 stars

Review by Elliott Wallis

The Jew of Malta
Christopher Marlowe

Malta is threatened with invasion by the Turkish Empire. The Christian Governor attempts to buy off the invading fleet with monies levied from the island’s Jewish population. When the prominent Jewish merchant, Barabas, protests the levy, the Governor seizes his entire fortune to pay the bribe.

As men of all faiths ruthlessly pursue their own interests hidden behind a mask of religious hypocrisy, the enraged Barabas plans a swift and bloody vengeance that threatens to destroy the entire island.

Justin Audibert makes his RSC debut to direct Christopher Marlowe’s subversive play. Justin previously worked as an Assistant Director on the RSC Ensemble 2009-2011. He is also an Associate of HighTide Festival Theatre.

Andy Apollo – Don Lodowick
Sheila Atim – Attendant
Jasper Britton (pictured) – Barabas
Guy Burgess – First Knight
Beth Cordingly – Bellamira
Geoffrey Freshwater – Friar Barnadine
Marcus Griffiths – Calymath
Rhiannon Handy – Attendant
Simon Hedger – Merchant
Julian Hoult – Merchant
Matthew Kelly – Friar Jacomo
Annette McLaughlin – Katherine
Lanre Malaolu – Ithamore
Matthew Needham – Pilia-Borza
Steven Pacey – Ferneze
Richard Rees – Martin del Bosco
Colin Ryan – Don Mathias
Nav Sidhu – Callapine
Catrin Stewart – Abigail
Gabby Wong – Abbess

Director – Justin Audibert
Designer – Lily Arnold
Lighting – Oliver Fenwick
Music – Jonathan Girling
Sound – Claire Windsor
Movement – Lucy Cullingford
Fights – Kev McCurdy

RSC Swan Theatre
18th March – 8th September 2015

Friday 27th March 2015

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