Rating: ★★★★★

The Off-Broadway production of the comedy, Marlowe’s Fate, is in the middle of a short run at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington. Those unfamiliar with the White Bear might be surprised to discover that the theatre is actually a small upstairs room at the vast White Bear pub, but the tiny space designated as the stage area actually works really well as a wonderfully intimate setting.

For devotees of the Shakespearean authorship question, Marlowe’s Fate is like a who’s who, and what’s what, of all the usual suspects, facts and events surrounding the conspiracy theory that the man from Stratford Upon Avon, William Shakespeare, (or Shaxsper as they refer to him in the the play), wasn’t the author of the canon of work associated with the name.

The play opens in the private dining room of the Deptford house in which Christopher Marlowe infamously met his death at the hands of known rogue and government agent Ingram Frizer. But from the opening moments, an alternative version of the official “manslaughter in self defence” is shown to have occurred in which Marlowe doesn’t die, and this sets the scene for the tangled web of deception that follows.

The action moves from Deptford to a London printer’s shop where a young William Shaxsper, newly arrived in London and looking for work to support his family, agrees to having his name printed on the cover of Venus and Adonis to provide cover for the real author,  Marlowe. He then becomes increasingly drawn into the murky web when a plan to reveal the real author literally collapses during a performance of Comedy of Errors, leaving Shaxsper fully entrenched as the accepted creator of the existing, and future works, while Marlowe is exiled in Italy.

Act 2 opens with the 398th annual Shakespearian Author’s Championship Challenge, played out as a puppet show. The challenges put up by Bacon, DeVere, and even Queen Elizabeth I are quickly seen off, leaving Shakespeare facing Marlowe in a bitterly fought final.

The closing scene, despite retaining the comic touches of the first act, is actually quite moving, as an aged Shaxsper is visited by Ben Johnson, who knowing the truth, wants to see if Shaxsper has any of the original manuscripts to help Johnson publish a folio of the complete works. Marlowe appears in a last ditch attempt to try and secure his legacy and reveal to the world the truth.

With an outstanding cast and beautiful costumes, the Offie nominated Marlowe’s Fate is a finely-crafted and humorous rehash of the well documented mysteries of both Shakespeares’s and Marlowe’s lives, and is well worth a visit.

On until the 28th November.

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