Tamburlaine, the electrifying theatrical study of tyranny and ambition was written in 1587 by the English renaissance playwright Christopher Marlowe when he was only 23. Some 430 years later Yellow Earth Theatre bring this rarely performed, complex drama to the Arcola Theatre where it opens on March 15th with a female lead and a cast of six who take on multiple roles and live music.
Tamburlaine was originally written in two parts: “I’ve distilled the core of the story into a tough two-hour version,” explains director Ng Choon Ping. “My aim is to preserve the rhythm of relentless onslaught in the original and maintain full and coherent journeys for the main characters while accentuating what I interpret to be the essential politics of the plays.”
Tamburlaine’s charismatic antihero massacres his way across Asia, the Middle East and Europe in his thirst for conquest; while his savagery is vast and vicious, his passions are detailed on a disturbingly human scale. He is a family man, a loving husband and an ambitious father. The play speaks across the centuries to our own age of politics and warfare, showing how cruelty and conquest can seduce both the powerful and the marginalised.
Loosely based on the life of the Central Asian emperor, Timur, the play is a milestone in Elizabethan public drama marking a new approach to fresh language, memorable action and intellectual complexity. Just ahead of Shakespeare’s first play, Henry V1 Part One (1590), Tamburlaine is considered to be the first popular success of London’s public stage. Marlowe created a hero that is unique in theatre, one which speaks to the 21st-century audience with its parallels of war and politics, vengeance and mistrust that have changed little since Elizabethan times.
“I think it’s time for British East Asian actors – and in particular women – to take their place in the classics,” says Yellow Earth’s Artistic Director, Kumiko Mendl. “Producing a play like Tamburlaine with a majority BEA female cast right now is so important. It’s a bold statement; we have the talent, range of experience and the ability amongst our BEA actors and creative teams to take on challenging roles and plays. This is how BEA theatre looks in 2017: forward thinking, confident and strong.”
Director Ng Choon Ping first read Tamburlaine at university: “I think Marlowe’s play touches a dark part of the psyche that perhaps our Shakespeare-dominated culture has obscured, even to ourselves, a part that applauds cruelty and triumphalism,” he says. “This production will challenge moral and dramatic orthodoxy – that some kind of justice will somehow prevail. It will also challenge the assumption that ethnic, gender, sexual and economic minorities are best confined to “their own stories”. Marlowe had no qualms about taking the Turko-Mongol history of Timur and re-shaping it into a very English confrontation with his Elizabethan world order. Our production will assert the same freedom.”
Yellow Earth Theatre Company is based at the Albany Theatre in Deptford, south London, not far from Marlowe’s unmarked grave at St Nicholas’s Church. “Christopher Marlowe was a towering figure in the canon of Elizabethan drama,” says Kumiko Mendl. “Even though his life was cut tragically short at 29, he remains a superpower in the canon of English playwrights and we want to remind people of his genius. Our production of Tamburlaine, brilliantly reclaimed by our director Ng Choon Ping, will be highly accessible and vivid.”
Director: Ng Choon Ping
Artistic Director: Kumiko Mendl
Designer: Moi Tran
Musician and composer: Joji Hirota
Video Designer: Gillian Ta
Lourdes Faberes as Tamburlaine
Multiple roles by Fiona Hampton, Melody Brown, Susan Hingley, Leo Wan and Amanda Maud.
TAMBURLAINE by CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE
Adapted and directed by Ng Choon Ping
March 15th – April 8th London, Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin St, Dalston, London E8 3DL
Tickets: £14-£17 www.arcolatheatre.com 020 7503 1646
PRESS NIGHT: Monday, March 20th at 8pm (approx. 2 hours plus interval)