I had no idea what to expect from this play. I’d vaguely heard of Dido, mainly through a book by Joan Aiken I read as a child. I knew that Carthage was in what is now Tunisia but had no idea that the Carthaginians are the same people referred to as Phoenicians. Or that Hannibal, who invaded Italy with his elephants, was a descendant of Dido’s brother.
Essentially the plot is that the goddess Venus is complaining that Jupiter is neglecting their son Aeneas who has been caught in a storm on the way from Troy to Italy. Jupiter allows Aeneas to land on the shore of Carthage where he meets Dido, the queen. Dido and Aeneas fall in love and Dido tries to prevent him leaving to complete his mission to Italy. Hermes informs Aeneas that he must leave and fulfil his destiny in Italy and when he leaves Dido burns everything that reminds her of him and kills herself.
Sandy Grierson, who plays Aeneas, seems to be the go-to lead for Christopher Marlowe plays at the RSC at the moment. He was an excellent Doctor Faustus last year and plays an interesting Aeneas this year. He is credible as a General and as a man full of self-doubt. He was also believable as a man in love with a beautiful Queen who can’t quite belive his luck. A long way from the ethereal Ariel he played back in 2012.
I thought Chipo Chung was an elegant, poised and beautiful Dido. I thought in the early part of the play she was excellent as a wise and thoughtful ruler. The problem was that her strength of character in the early part of the play made it difficult to believe she would just crumble when Aeneas left. This is probably my modern sensibilities but I think she would probably have made plans to follow him rather than rend and tear everything that reminded her of him! Or she might have stabbed him so he couldn’t leave rather than kill herself because he’d gone.
Overall, I enjoyed the play. I enjoyed the intimacy you get at The Swan where you’re never too far from the action. And I’d certainly go see another production to have something to compare this one to.