Chipo Chung as Dido. Pictures: Topher McGrillis

Dido, Queen of Carthage

The Swan Theatre



Those who studied Virgil’s The Aeneid will remember chapters about Aneas’ time on Dido’s island of Carthage. In Dido, Queen of Carthage, Marlowe’s play unlocks the story and leads us into a world of highly driven emotion with characters stronger than life.

Directed by Kimberly Sykes, the play tells of Aeneas’ time on the remote island and the struggle that was had when trying to leave.

Sheer human emotion is the theme that sets Marlowe’s play. Dido herself is the untouchable queen, until Aeneas and his men land lost upon her island. When Aeneas is discovered and introduced to Dido, the cheeky god Cupid has plans to make them fall in love. High emotions of love and lust are palpable in such a small space of time until Aeneas must leave for Italy. All the while, Aeneas’ men grow unsettled as their mission to travel to Italy is halted due to Aeneas’ infatuation for Dido.

With its Roman roots, Marlowe makes sure that the gods are just as important as the mortals on earth. The goddess Venus, played by Ellie Beaven, who happens to be Aeneas’ mother, looks over him from afar and makes sure his destiny is always on course. Naughty but loveable Cupid, played by Ben Goffe, has a plan to make Aeneas stay on Dido’s island, and has an integral part to play in halting Aneas’ journey

Sykes has the perfect balance between modern and classical within this production and the show acts as an accessible bridge that tells the Roman story. Ti Green’s awesome design blends stylish fashion with a Roman touch so that the play is set in no particular era.

We see a classy ethereal world that taps into our imagination. Mike Fletcher’s music is a whirlwind of modern rock, laced with a traditional style to tell us that this is a setting beyond the living world. The set is a bare stage with a floor of sand that always ascertains to the remote island.

The play is great and the cast are greater. Each performance is an explosive emotional journey that takes our breath away. The play opens with the gods where we see Nicholas Day as Jupiter wooing the boy-like god Ganymede, who is played by Andro Cowperthwaite. Bridgitta Roy’s Juno is classy and punchy. 


Sandy Grierson as Aeneas

The Roman gods certainly turn the stage into a higher world, but the characters of the mortal world are robust and strong, as they depict a wonderful picture of the mythical Roman island and its inhabitants.

Sandy Grierson is no stranger to playing Marlowe at the Swan. His last performance as Dr. Faustus was unforgettable. With a match determining who the cast would play at the very moment, Grierson’s blew the audience away. In the production of Dido, Grierson plays the heroic lover Aeneas and again gives the audience a spectacular performance. There were tears from the audience as he played his spellbinding rendition of a monologue explaining the history of Troy and his men’s journey. He is a complete joy to watch.

Daniel York gives a spectacular performance as Iarbas, whose unrequited love for Dido leaves a powerful mark on his soul. His wonderful speech that tells the audience his innermost feelings pulls the audience into the inner depths of emotion. Amber James as Anna is also fantastic within her role as Dido’s loyal sister, especially at the play’s explosive ending.

The link between all characters comes with Chipo Chung’s spectacular performance of the queen herself. Without saying a word, her sheer presence as Dido is enough to feel a royal charm. Each scene is detailed with an emotional brilliance and her individual speeches are sublime. Chung gives the perfect balance between being the strong ruler of the island and being touched with a deep and powerful love for Aeneas. It renders her utterly passionate so that no other things in her world matter.

The play has an epic ending and the flawless actors portray Marlowe’s heart-breaking conclusion with perfection. It is wonderfully charged and the final scenes are beautiful as they are tragic. The simplicity of the loss of love that drives Dido to such extremes is built up by the creative expertise of Chung and James. Their talents and grasp of character are superb, which makes for a spectacular finale.

It is a show that displays every possible human emotion and Sykes heightens to pay homage to Marlowe’s beautiful poetry that stays true to a classical Roman style. The fast-paced story and heart rendering themes of lost love is enough to want to watch the performance over again. To 28-10-17

Elizabeth Halpin


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