by Christopher Marlowe.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 26 October 2013.
Runs: 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 14 September.
Brash but not dull.
Under Nick Hytner, the Travelex £12 ticket deal has triumphed in bringing National Theatre productions within reach of whole new audiences. Productions have been tailored to this approach. Bold and often brash.
On the distaff side, this has also produced a reductive, modern style capturing young imaginations but losing subtlety and nuance.
Following this trend, Joe Hill-Gibbins – an alumnus of David Lan’s Young Vic – has produced a revival of Christopher Marlowe’s provocative tragedy that is rightly shocking.
Throbbing drums echo Michael Boyd’s landmark Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Shakespeare’s Histories while protagonists behave as they might in recent trendy TV adaptations of The Tudors and The White Queen: spoilt, over-wrought, driven inexorably by sexual or political passion.
The sound of disco and club sits alongside soldiers wreathed in leather and armour-plating, some topped by enormous animalistic helmets – `Unleash the dogs of war’ made graphic.
Those acquainted with Shakespeare and his histories, from Richard II through the Wars of the Roses to the birth of the Tudors will recognise the scenario: a `weak’ king, rebellious, warring lords, the hegemony and domination of the Church in Rome and ensuing chaos. The rise and fall of fortunes.
Marlowe, of course, goes one step further, underlining his homosexually-inclined monarch, Edward and (in this production) Kyle Soller’s rent-boy favourite, Gaveston as political challenges. Hill-Gibbins, going overboard with modernity (Queen Isabella’s portrayal suffers), makes Edward, Gaveston and pals outrageously camp. But the feudal opponents, Mortimer, Lancaster, Warwick and the rest, are shown in no better light, as brutal, thuggish bullies.
Hill-Gibbins’ approach succeeds brilliantly in immediacy and use of screens and video-cam as instant newscasts; in Lizzie Clachan’s deconstructed set, part medieval, part wooden backstage flats; in cross-gendering allowing more female involvement (especially Bettrys Jones’ `schoolboy’ Prince Edward). And best of all, in John Heffernan’s Edward.
Heffernan gives the erring monarch wonderful emotional eloquence. True, Marlowe reserves his best, most poetic moments for Edward, his deposition scene (heart-stopping) and his dreadful hot poker demise with Soller as Edward’s nemesis, Lightborn.
Dull it ain’t. But it is Heffernan who gives the production its heart and soul.
Edward II: John Heffernan.
Queen Isabella: Vanessa Kirby.
Prince Edward: Bettrys Jones.
Piers Gaveston/Lightborn: Kyle Soller.
Hugh Spencer: Nathaniel Martello-White.
Baldock: Ben Addis.
Earl of Lancaster: Alex Beckett.
Guy, Earl of Warwick: Matthew Pidgeon.
Lord Mortimer the elder: Paul Bentall.
Lord Mortimer the younger: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.
Pembroke: Penny Layden.
Archbishop of Centerbury: David Sibley.
Bishop of Coventry: Stephen Wilson.
Maltravers: Alex Beckett.
Gurney: Matthew Pidgeon.
The Dogs: Iain Batchelor, Nathalie Carrington, Jack Helsby, Daniel Millar, Johnny Panchaud, Jamie Satterthwaite, Dan Winter, Thomas Yarrow.
Director: Joe Hill-Gibbins.
Designer: Lizzie Clachan.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Music: Gary Yershon.
Video/Projections: Chris Kondek.
Digital Art: Dan Radley-Bennett.
Costume: Alex Lowde.
Movement: Imogen Knight.
Company Voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Dramaturg: Zoë Svendsen.
Music associate: Sam Cable.
This production of Edward II opened in the Olivier Theatre London on 4 September 2013.