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The Marlowe Society is a Cambridge University theatre club for Cambridge students. It is dedicated to achieving a high standard of student drama at Cambridge. The society celebrated its centenary over three years (2007–2009) and in 2008 there was a production by the society of a version of Comus written by Australian poet and playwright John Kinsella.
The Marlowe Society was founded in 1907 by Justin Brooke and other students, with the intention of performing historical plays that were relatively unknown, as Christopher Marlowe, the Society's namesake, was himself a lesser-known contemporary of Shakespeare's. Brooke and his fellow students were reacting against Victorian theatre and decided to revive the presentation of Shakespeare in Cambridge, not performed there since 1886. The Society came to specialise in Elizabethan and Jacobean revivals in uncut texts performed with their original economy and rapidity, and (in the early years) with the female roles played by men. The first successful modern production of The White Devil, for example, was that of the Marlowe Society (ADC Theatre, Cambridge, March 1920), directed by J. T. Sheppard, with music by C. Armstrong Gibbs and with Eric Maschwitz as Vittoria. “Anybody who enjoys hearing beautiful poetry beautifully spoken,” wrote the editor of the Cambridge Review, “and tragic passion ‘with dignity put on’ should not miss this wonderful opportunity. What a magnificent play!”
In 1964, to celebrate the Centennial of 1964 as commissioned by the British Council, the Society decided to stage a production of the complete, uncut canon of Shakespeare poems and plays, under the direction of George Rylands.
The Marlowe Society and Footlights used to work closely together: frequently the annual Footlights pantomime was a parody of the Marlowe society's serious dramatic performance earlier in the year. This performance is the one 'hosted' by the Cambridge Arts Theatre in Cambridge.
As of October 2013, the Marlowe Society is holding a year-long festival to mark the 450th Anniversary of Marlowe's birth. Over the year, the entirety of Marlowe's works will be staged in venues across Cambridge, including the annual 'Arts' Show. The Festival was launched by Michael Oakley's production of Dido, Queen of Carthage at Emmanuel College Chapel, followed by a gala performance at the Senate House.
There are many famous alumni of this society, including:
- John Barton
- Sir Peter Hall
- Sir Trevor Nunn
- Tim Supple
- Sam Mendes
- Ian McKellen
- Derek Jacobi
- Tom Hollander
- Griff Rhys Jones
- Clive Swift
- George 'Dadie' Rylands
- Simon Russell Beale
- Emma Thompson
- Stephen Fry
- Hugh Laurie
- Rachel Weisz
- Dan Stevens
- Rebecca Hall
Alumni have often returned to participate in current Marlowe productions: including Sir Ian McKellen, who supported the 2010 production of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, and Sir Trevor Nunn, who directed the 2007 production of Cymbeline.
- Chair - Tim Cribb
- President - Fergus Blair
- Junior Treasurer - Henry Jenkinson
- Membership Secretary - Andrew Room
- Education Officer - Martha Bennett
- General Members - Emily Burns, Tara Coverdale, Hellie Cranney, Ellen Robertson, Lily Staff, Hugh Stubbins
- Dido, Queen of Carthage (2013), the launch to the 450 Years Festival, at Emmanuel College Chapel and the Senate House.
- The Comedy of Errors (2013), at the Cambridge Arts Theatre
- A new adaptation of Oresteia (2012), at the ADC Theatre, which is currently transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
- Bartholomew Fayre: A Comedy (2012), by Ben Jonson at the ADC Theatre
- Ecumenical (2012), a new play by John Kinsella
- Plough Plays (2012), a new adaptation of Medieval Mummers Plays by John Kinsella
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (2012) at the Cambridge Arts Theatre
- Scrooge & Marley (2011), a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol
- Bird Pie (2011), winner of the Marlowe/RSC Other Prize
- The Orphanarium of Erthing Worthing (2011), a new comedy
- Lysistrata (2011) in St John's College gardens
- Much Ado About Nothing (2011) at the Cambridge Arts Theatre
- Fired Up (2010), winner of the Marlowe/RSC Other Prize
- The Alchemist (2010) at the ADC Theatre
- The Importance of Being Earnest (2010) in the Gonville and Caius College courts
- Twelfth Night (2010) at the Cambridge Arts Theatre