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The Jew of Malta - RSC Swan Theatre Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Jasper Britton Is Exceptional As The Witty Villain
There's black comedy and then there's this deeply dark mischievously humorous play by Christopher Marlowe.

Overflowing with cynical wit against religious hypocrisy and racism plus open mockery of Catholic priests, you could mistake the script for a TV panel show like Mock the Week or Have I Got News For You. But no, this provocative play is from around 1590.

The Jew of Malta1
Jasper Britton is an inspired choice to play Barabas in The Jew of Malta


It's hard to believe The Jew of Malta was created more than 400 years ago as it feels so ahead of its time. A morality tale, of kind, we see the successful Jewish businessman Barabas become a serial killer, traitor and war mongerer with no limits to his revenge after suffering appalling prejudice and anti-semitism by the ruling Christian authorities in Malta.

It takes a strong lead to fill the shoes of Barabas for he is a ruthless yet likeable villain who needs to win over the crowd. That's no easy task as he is as flawed as he is funny, often as wrong as he is right.

The Jew of Malta3
The Jew of Malta is a very black comedy


Actor Jasper Britton is an inspired choice for this juicy role. He's got the charm, the presence on stage and a wonderful grasp of comedic timing that can make you laugh along with him during the character's most horrific acts. Britton grabs your full attention and doesn't let go until his dramatic finale.

The humour starts from the get go when the chorus type figure of Machiavel opens the production wearing a Royal Marlowe Company (RMC) T-shirt.

This play is not for the easily offended when it comes to religion as Marlowe's anti-religious protestations start from this prologue when the seemingly athiest Machiavel tells us he counts "religion but a childish toy". During the next two and a half hours that toy is torn apart and left in tatters. It's a brave piece of literature when you consider the government regime of Marlowe's day.

The Jew of Malta2
The RSC has a new production of Christopher Marlowe's The Jew Of Malta


Helping Barabas succeed (as well as leading to his ultimate downfall) is slave and rogue Ithamore, played with relish and an air of menace by actor Lanre Malaolu.

Among the rest of the cast, there are some familiar faces - Steven Pacey, who was once Del Tarrant in Blake's 7 TV series, and television presenter Matthew Kelly. Although they are better known for good natured roles, they both seem to enjoy dabbling in something much darker by performing as objectionable hypocrites within the Christian regime.

The Jew of Malta is a sound RSC directorial debut from Justin Audibert, who is the Artistic Associate for HighTide Festival Theatre and Red Ladder. He has recreated the white stone feel of Malta with a water fountain that gets plenty of use - but I'd avoid the front centre row if you aren't wearing waterproofs.

Audibert's ultimate success with this production is allowing Marlowe's cynicism and wit to shine through this very funny and captivating production. It's worth seeing even if just for Jasper Britton's impassioned performance.

Rating: 8/10

The Jew of Malta
Swan Theatre
Stratford upon Avon
Continues until 8 September, 2015

Captioned Performances - Thursday 14 May, 7.30pm & Wednesday 10 June, 7.30pm
Audio described performances - Saturday 23 May, 1.30pm & Saturday 27 June, 7.30pm.

Tickets cost from 12 from the RSC website or by calling the Ticket Hotline on 0844 800 1110.

Cast

Jasper Britton (Barabas)
Steven Pacey (Ferneze)
Guy Burgess (First Knight)
Beth Cordingly (Bellamira)
Lanre Malaolu (Ithamore)
Geoffrey Freshwater (Friar Barnadine)
Marcus Griffiths (Calymath)
Rhiannon Handy (Attendant)
Simon Hedger (Merchant)
Julian Hoult (Merchant)
Matthew Kelly (Friar Jacomo)
Andy Apollo (Don Lodowick)
Sheila Atim (Attendant)
Annette McLaughlin (Katherine)
Matthew Needham (Pilia-Borza)
Richard Rees (Martin del Bosco)
Colin Ryan (Don Mathias)
Nav Sidhu (Callapine)
Catrin Stewart (Abigail)
Gabby Wong (Abbess).
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Why? See a zesty black comedy
When: Until September 8, 2015
Phone: 0844 800 1110
Where: Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 12
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