Edward II

Tue 28th October – Sat 1st November 2014

reviews

Elizabeth Crowdy

at 01:18 on 29th Oct 2014

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It became clear upon arrival at New Cellars, Pembroke College to see Edward II that this was going to be an intense production. The space was small, with sparse scenery, and the audience arranged in an intimate way around the stage area, leaving little or no space between the actors and the audience.

The opening of the play was strong, with total darkness and music setting an ominous scene. The opening speech delivered partially in darkness caught the attention of the audience from the beginning.

The lighting was particularly powerful in the production, with various filters providing an emotional colour wash for the intense dialogue of Marlowe. A highlight was when the angle of one of the lights projected the silhouette of King Edward's son onto the white square on the back of the throne, adding visual symbolism to Marlowe's writing.

The acting was excellent throughout, with Lauren Brown giving a convincing portrayal of the spoilt King Edward. Eloise Poulton presented a particularly slimy Piers de Gaveston, and Eleanor Mack shone as a desperate Queen Isabella.

Despite the high class of acting, there were aspects of the play that were distracting, and took away the power of the delivery. The costumes were poorly made, a mistake easily noticeable when the audience is in such close proximity to the performers. Thread hanging from hems, and tunics held together with safety pins diverted attention from the play itself, and the crown and sceptre of the King were reminiscent of art and craft books rather than imposing symbols of power.

Though the confined environment was very intense for the audience, especially in such a long play with no interval, it did help to make the play hard hitting. Near the end of the play when the King is thrown into a dungeon, there were some particularly affecting moments, such as his torture and subsequent death. The proximity drew the audience into this, making the whole sequence even more disturbing. I did not feel that this detracted from the performance, but it did make being an audience member more exhausting than normal. Whether this is a good thing or not is down to individuals to decide.

One of the main themes of the play is the homosexuality of Edward II and Gaveston, an element which was brought out through tender dialogue and physical interaction between Brown and Poulton, although they never actually kissed. This was perhaps not as intense as the scenes involving executions, yet still conveyed the complexity of the relationships of the original, both homosexual and heterosexual.

Although long and draining with a few flaws, this production was a successful rendition of Marlowe, with some passionate acting illuminating his poetic speeches. A tiring yet enjoyable way for Marlowe fans to spend an evening.

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Jack McNichol

at 10:29 on 29th Oct 2014

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Edward II is a big play to squeeze into the small space provided by Pembroke New Cellars: love, death, war and kingship are just some of the weighty themes explored in Marlowe’s tragedy, which plots the downfall of a king who falls out of favour with his nobility due to an immoderate affection for his young favourite, Piers de Gaveston.

The play begins gently, as the audience is plunged into darkness and treated to a rather beautiful excerpt from “Not Long Now” by James Blake, which fades into Gavestone’s opening monologue. Eloise Poulton’s movement during this speech captures a playful artfulness to her character, which contrasts nicely with the rigidly structured, unmoving formation of the court who arrive in the following scene. Lauren Brown’s Edward roves among the dissenting nobility, in a childish rage which sets the mark for a strong and sustained performance, that ranges from the sneering smugness of a self-satisfied monarch to the tragically pathetic portrayal of a fragile man bereft of comfort, struggling to hold on to his sense of identity.

This interpretation leaves the nature of the relationship between Edward and his favourite as ambiguous (Derek Jarman’s 1991 adaptation for the screen famously brought to the fore the implied homosexuality of the title character). Gender-blind casting, although providing the opportunity for the strongest actors to take prominent roles, decentralised the questions of masculinity and social intolerance which the play explores. Eleanor Mack as Edward’s neglected queen takes us on a wonderful journey from scorned yet devoted wife, to Lady Macbeth-esque conspirator, to woman once again silenced by men, eclipsed by the commanding and Machiavellian Mortimer (Will Bishop) and finally condemned by her own son.

The play’s tragic conclusion comes with a high level of impact occasioned in part by the sheer proximity of the audience to the action, being positioned on either side of the central performance space - my notepad was very nearly splashed during a particularly nasty incidence of water-boarding. This does have its drawbacks however, with some moments of armed combat and physical violence proving highly unconvincing when viewed at close quarters. The set was pleasingly minimalist, and the way in which the royal throne and the table used for meetings of the court framed opposite ends of the stage nicely echoed and reinforced the key conflict of the play.

Two hours of tragedy, happening thirty centimeters away from you and without an interval can be a lot to deal with on a dreary October evening. However, this production is carried along by powerful performances all the way to its gloomy end. And if Lauren Brown can lie on the floor with a table on her face for that long, you can make the effort to turn up and watch.

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