by Christopher Marlowe.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 8 October 2011.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat8 Feb 2.30pm.
Audio-described 1 Oct 4pm.
BSL Signed 7 Oct.
Post-show Discussion 29 Sept.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 September.
Curt court and wild antics in visually strong production.
Back in the respectable 1950s, it seems, a young man learns his lover has become king and is calling him home from exile. But this is actually the turbulent 1590s, when Christopher Marlowe was giving nascent English drama a new verbal magnificence – the one aspect missing in Toby Frow’s Royal Exchange revival.
Marlowe might well have found the early 14th-century king an attractive subject. His sexuality led to hostility which, otherwise, those around him might have been willing to keep quiet. Though Marlowe emphasises, as Frow does in his mixed updating (a transistor and more modern form of the radio ‘pips’ surely out of period), the wildness of the initially joyous king’s behaviour.
His Edward is besotted with low-born bad boy Piers Gaveston, who affronts the nobility – Samuel Collings’ t-shirt and leathers contrasting their suits, as his wild, unpredictable movements do their stolidity and curt authoritative tones. Edward laughs along with his lover when Gaveston assaults a Bishop, giving him the cleric’s post as well.
Meanwhile, Queen Isabella suffers rejection by Edward – though Emma Cunniffe has a strength of voice and stance that remind Isabella was active in Edward’s overthrow. Viciousness is equally matched in Marlowe’s cruel world. Collings reappears, unrecognisable, as the soft-spoken matchstick of an assassin whose notorious murder-method is bloodily spelled-out here amid the foul sewer where vindictive nobility has placed the former king.
Chris New’s Edward lays curled-up as the court moves on around him. In this world power is on display. Rich coronation robes match ‘Zadok the Priest’ and the coronation oath, a formal splendour cast aside as Edward turns to his lover, leaving his wife to depart alone. Later, the ceremonial’s heard offstage as Edward’s son, ruthless in a more acceptable way, is crowned; and it seems diminished in more than just volume.
From the start, New’s Edward shows the contrast between the militarily splendid uniform and a distinctly unauthoritative voice. Marlowe doesn’t help in negotiating the swift changes between arrogant certainty with his lover, and sudden intimidation by the nobles, but New makes clear the tragedy of inexperience up against a well-networked Establishment.
Edmund Earl of Kent: Joe Coen.
Mortimer Senior/Matrevis: David Collings.
Piers Gaveston/Lightborn: Samuel Collings.
Mortimer: Jolyon Coy.
Isabella: Emma Cunniffe.
Earl of Lancaster/Priest: Jonathan Keeble.
Spencer: Clifford Lyonette.
Baldock: Richard Mark.
Bishop of Coventry/Sir John of Flanders: Dyfrig Morris.
King Edward II: Chris New.
Archbishop of Canterbury/Rhys ap Howell: Stuart Richman.
Earl of Warwick/Gurney: Hugh Simon.
Prince Edward: Owen Fitzpatrick/Jonah Rzeskiewicz/Benjamin Woodward.
Director: Toby Frow.
Designer: Ben Stones.
Lighting: Mark Jonathan.
Sound/Composer: Richard Hammarton.
Fight director: Malcolm Ranson.
Assistant director: Max Webster.