John Dryden's play is an eccentric vision of Mughal India, set in a land that's pieced together from outlandish accounts from seventeenth century travellers. Barrie Rutter's production punctures some of its potential silliness, setting it in the down-to-earth surrounds of a 20th century textile mill.
This artful piece of recontextualising makes sense: or it would do, if the British-Asian factory workers' stories made their way into the narrative. Instead, Dryden's rhyming couplets are left more or less intact (albeit heavily cut) and a crew of boiler-suited performers resurrect this play with an odd mixture of static reverence and knockabout humour.
There's a lot to giggle at. Dryden might have styled his play as a 'heroic tragedy', but it's full of broad satire of marital discontent, cloaked in neat couplets. The title's 'captive queen' is Indamora, who manages to make almost every man she meets fall wildly in love with her. Including her captor, a Mughal emperor who's wonderfully upbraided by his wife Nourmahal: Angela Griffin brings a mix of sultry preening and righteous anger to the role.
This emperor has a faintly Prospero, faintly King Lear-ish trajectory: he's failing, and struggling over which of his sons to entrust his legacy to. Barrie Rutter plays the role, in a neatly fitting end to his role as founder of Northern Broadsides.
But he doesn't quite have the energy to carry some of the explication-heavy earlier scenes: it's hard to invest in these antiquated political manouevrings, especially since Rutter's staging often feels static. Niraj Chag’s music injects atmosphere, although the musicians looked distractingly weary during the long periods they weren't playing.
Dryden's play was made for indoor playhouses like the Wanamaker, but Jessica Worrell's cumbersome design tamps down the space's rich magic. Still, this is a valuable opportunity to see an intriguing text, full of unexpected, undampened humour.