Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Review: DIDO'S BAR, The Factory

Review: DIDO'S BAR, The Factory

Virgil's Aeneid gets a modern update.

Review: DIDO'S BAR, The Factory What began with an encounter between director Josephine Barton and Kurdish Iranian musician Marouf Majidi in 2017 in Helsinki has culminated in a converted factory space in Newham and Dido's Bar, a story of immigrants fleeing war and persecution and finding love in foreign lands.

As the title suggests, Barton found inspiration for the plot from Virgil's Aeneid, well known for being the Roman poet's masterpiece. Over twelve books and 9,896 lines (all in dactylic hexameter), it tells how the war between Greece and Troy forces Aeneas to leave his home for a new life in Carthage. There, he falls for the queen Dido and plays out a tragic love affair before moving on to Italy. Less well known is exactly how many people have read all twelve books.

Dido's Bar (which sets off next month for a national tour) has much to recommend it. The four-strong live band led by Ben Sutcliffe features the talented Majidi on a variety of Iranian instruments including a tar and a tanbur. Whether backing the actor-musicians as they sing or just strumming along, they provide the heart of this slice of gig theatre.

Writer Hattie Taylor has slanted Virgil's story somewhat, moving it to the modern day. Here, Dido (Lola May) is a bar manager who takes pity on the refugee Aeneas (Lahcen Razzougui). She helps get him with the necessary paperwork and attain the right to remain; in turn, he turns her mind away from her murdered husband towards the possibility of a new relationship.

Before long, though, Aeneas' own head is turned with the opportunity to leave Dido and her establishment for the bigger stage of Bar Latinus owned by Turnus (Tuukkka Leppanen) and his fiancée Matina (Gemma Barnett). As with all ancient Greek dramas worth the name, all of this is overseen and steered by divine beings, in this case Juno (Georgina White) and Venus (Priscille Grace), goddesses and owners of the two bars.

The songs in Dido's Bar are well-crafted numbers which reflect the actors' ethnic origins and, as the story progresses, moves from the booming sound of Afro-beat to the more mellow sounds of modern jazz. English is the predominant language but there are chunks of French and Finnish thrown in for good measure.

The unusual staging sees the actors move around the large and drafty space (blankets are provided). When not singing from the stage, they move around the cabaret-style tables or play out their scenes in dedicated areas at the back or side. This inevitably adds something of a frisson when the action is happening mere feet away but, as this is a rare occurrence, mostly serves to dampen the emotional impact of the dramatic interplay.

As with much musical theatre, there is inevitably a trade-off between the music and the drama. The cast all have fine singing voices but for some their acting often fails to convincingly portray the characters' emotions or the hard choices being made. May and Razzougui have wonderful voices but struggle to convince us of the deep love Dido and Aeneas feel for each other while Barnett and Razzogui fare little better when portraying Aeneas' second love affair with Matina.

Grace and White as Juno and Venus are both superb, full-throated and frankly the only real source of humour in this otherwise dry script. Their Statler and Waldorf-style bickering is a riot and, through witty banter and singing, both effortless impose their personas around the venue. Leppanen as Turnus is a standout who adds much needed passion, fire and fury. The impact of the bloody Goodfellas-style finale, as Turnus takes out his murderous anger on the poor busboy Marco (played by May), is felt from right across the cavernous room in contrast to many of the preceding scenes.

Like Aeneas fleeing Troy, there's a sensation here that Dido's Bar is only at the beginning of its journey. Musically, it is spot on but the story lags in places and the staging does it few favours. It will likely work better in a smaller, more intimate space where the plot won't rely so much on the songs and the human connections will be more apparent.

Dido's Bar continues at The Factory until 15 October with shows scheduled for Manchester, Leicester, Portsmouth and Oxford.

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

Submit Nominations For The 2022 BroadwayWorld UK / West End Awards Before October 31st Photo
Voting is now open for the 2022 BroadwayWorld West End Awards! Nominations were reader-submitted and now our readers get to vote for their favorites.

Review: YIPPEE KI YAY, Kings Head Theatre Photo
This versified version of arguably the greatest Christmas film ever is a seasonal highlight.

Review: PICTURE PERFECT CHRISTMAS SHOW, National Gallery Photo
Ever wanted to step inside the world of one of the National Gallery’s paintings? Immersive theatre company Boo Productions may have the answer. Boo Productions pluck their protagonists from the foreground of Avercamp’s wintry village scenes, and use them to create an original, pantomime-influenced Christmas fairytale.

London Philharmonic Orchestra Performs Gavin Bryarss Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet Next  Photo
The London Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Gavin Bryars's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet on Wednesday 11 January at St John's Waterloo in two concerts; one public performance and the other a relaxed event for invited homeless community groups.

From This Author - Franco Milazzo

If you have or know of a show which is pushing creative boundaries in any art form and could do with an honest review, please let me know! Call me a critic, call me a scribbler, call me what y... (read more about this author)

Review: A CHRISTMAS GAIETY, Royal Albert HallReview: A CHRISTMAS GAIETY, Royal Albert Hall
December 6, 2022

Drag queens are rarely charged with the crime of being understated so it is hardly surprising that San Fran’s Peaches Christ and her co-host Edwin Outwater chose to partner up with the Royal Albert Hall for the UK debut of their perennial Christmas show.

Review: YIPPEE KI YAY, King's Head TheatreReview: YIPPEE KI YAY, King's Head Theatre
December 5, 2022

This versified version of arguably the greatest Christmas film ever is a seasonal highlight.

December 5, 2022

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.” Attributed to Nobel Prize-winning economist and Ali G interviewee JK Galbraith, this is the phrase that rolls around my head as I venture into the Crystal Maze-like Monopoly Lifesized, a highly entertaining take on arguably art’s single greatest monument to the pursuit of personal wealth.

Interview: Le Gateau Chocolat on A CHRISTMAS GAIETY, Qatar, BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT and RPDR: 'Drag is transgressive and anarchic at its core'Interview: Le Gateau Chocolat on A CHRISTMAS GAIETY, Qatar, BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT and RPDR: 'Drag is transgressive and anarchic at its core'
December 2, 2022

With a CV that includes drag, opera, musical theatre and live art, Le Gateau Chocolat is a cabaret legend who escapes categorisation even if it is relatively easy to put your finger on just why he is so entertaining.

Review: ELF THE MUSICAL, Dominion TheatreReview: ELF THE MUSICAL, Dominion Theatre
November 25, 2022

When Elf The Musical last set foot in London, the critics noted its family appeal, the syrupy content and the extortionate ticket prices. Has much changed this time around?