A bare set with books strewn across the floor, a pumping soundtrack by The Smiths and The Clash, a boy with a poem scrawled on his chest… this new play – written by Phil Preece for the Lichfield Festival, and directed by Tracey Street – is a fresh and vibrant imagining of the life of Elizabethan bad-boy Christopher Marlowe.
A contemporary of Shakespeare, Marlowe is said to have been killed in a tavern brawl in 1593, but Preece’s script skilfully draws on recent scholarly theories that the playwright/poet was, in fact, a government operative, sent to Rome to spy on the Catholics. The brawl, some believe, was simply a cover-story that allowed Marlowe to escape growing trouble in England and abscond to Italy, where he spent his final years in exile.
Dark Angel is a lively snapshot of Elizabethan England that succeeds in blowing the cobwebs off one of our greatest literary figures. Gareth Somers is splendid as Marlowe: an old rabble-rouser, now drunk and disillusioned, looking back on his rackety life. We share in the success of his radical plays, his discovery of Rome’s seamy nightlife, and finally, his bitterness at being kept from England, and the theatre: the site of his greatest achievements.
Somers is backed by a cast of three young actors (Louis Tappenden, Sian Blue Rogers and Bally Gill), whose physical performances, using minimal props and simple lighting, conjure up an irresistible punk aesthetic. As the play draws to a close we see the fate of Marlowe’s character Doctor Faustus – who famously sells his soul to the devil – begin to merge with that of his creator.
Dark Angel is showing tonight at the Lichfield Garrick Studio (8pm, £10). Tel: 01543 412121. www.lichfieldfestival.org.