The Massacre at Paris

HELENA ROY does actually like a somewhat limp production of Marlowe.

ADC lateshow Marlowe massacre at paris

ADC Theatre, 11 PM, February 12th-15th, £6/5.

In a pithy, feeling voice the Duke of Guise (Ruth O’Connell Brown) spits out the first command for murder in the opening monologue of ‘The Massacre at Paris’. This is a rushed potion of a drama, into which Marlowe chucked intrigue, political wrangling, murder, jealousy, lust and monarchy.


A blank set of khaki and black is the backdrop for the Marlowe Society’s play, in celebration of the 450th anniversary of Marlowe’s birth. Paris is on edge as internal warfare between Protestants and Catholics swamps the city. But don’t expect the focus to be theological – one line from the play just about sums the plot up: ‘he takes advantage of religion’. Rampaging pursuit of power by the Duke of Guise and what feels like a parade of Kings (we had got through three by the end) is the storm the plot follows.

Though the history is interesting in itself, the scenes feel rushed. ‘The Massacre at Paris’ is Marlowe’s play to which the least attention – both in terms of performance and criticism – has been paid. And it’s easy to see why: while the language is a little more raw and visceral (always enjoyable), rather petty subplots – the cuckolding of the Duke of Guise and a consequent casual murder, for example – shake up the play to added confusion, rather than intrigue. Action is bloody and rapid, but dramatic events come at the expense of deep characterisation and ramblingly authentic verse.

But it’s unfair to judge the cast – which is well chosen – on this. It’s impressive how many women they managed to slot into the dominantly masculine play. O’Connell Brown is captivating as the Duke of Guise – she becomes the hero of the play, in a way, stealing Marlowe’s lines and making them rolling, power-drugged and passionate. Tension between her and Rebecca Hare (as Catherine de Medici) is taught and tantalising, and the penultimate scene between them was the most emotive of the evening.

The titular massacre is done well – hidden actors are dragged from the audience and the ADC suddenly gets a tad claustrophobic. Ash Rosen as Navarre provided an antidote to the melodramatic politics of Guise and Medici, with appealing sincerity. The set needed to be more pointed to compensate for what is a necessarily speedy plot, but characterisation of the main players was excellent considering how jumpy the narrative is.

‘The Massacre at Paris’ hardly has a cheery title to sell it. But the oxymoronic combination of mass murder in the city of light and love should spark curiosity. Unique in addressing its own contemporary political history and ignoring sensitivities, ‘The Massacre at Paris’ is a brutal rendering of one of the bloodiest massacres of French history, and characterisation is scene stealing – hampered only marginally by Week 5 flu.