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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Marlowe’

I was intrigued by the prospect of this response to Edward II, written by the actor who play’s him in Marlowe’s play, running in rep with it. It turns out to be a very clever yet entertaining review of attitudes to LGBT rights since, made more poignant as I saw it on the day the state of Brunei introduced stoning as a punishment.

Edward ‘falls’ into another place and the first person he meets in the dark is the Archbishop of Canterbury. They talk while they light the theatre’s candles together. He’s soon gone and three rather diverse gay icons turn up – Gertrude Stein, Quentin Crisp and Harvey Milk – who share their perspectives and experiences. At various times we briefly meet Maria von Trapp, The Village People and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, obviously. Another character from history, actor Edward Alleyn, adds his historical perspective. Gaveston arrives to take us full circle as the actor playing Edward becomes himself and introduces his story, during which we get to meet his school bully. In the final scene the stage and auditorium is invaded by the cast, musicians and a choir for an exhilarating conclusion.

It’s a well written play which makes its point, that we’ve come a long way but there’s still further to go, really well, whilst always entertaining. By linking the story of Edward and Gaveston with the writer’s own and those of the historical public figures, it produces a multi-layered and very satisfying narrative, and its very funny. Brendan O’Hea’s staging and Jessica Worrall’s design both serve it well. Tom Stuart is excellent as Edward as well as himself!, there’s a terrific performance by Richard Cant as Quentin Crisp, and Polly Frame, Annette Badland & Jonathan Livingstone are excellent as Harvey Milk, Gertrude Stein and Edward Alleyn respectively.

The highlight of the Winter Season in the SWP. Don’t miss!

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It would be difficult to find two productions of this play as far apart as this and Joe Hill-Gibbins staging at the Olivier just over five years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/edward-II). The latter was on one of London’s biggest stages, this on one of its smallest. At the National, it was a radical take, with live video footage, here it oozes period. The NT’s thrilled me, but this left me rather cold I’m afraid.

It struck me for the first time how much weaker Marlowe’s dialogue is than Shakespeare’s verse; more accessible but nowhere near as beautiful. He packs in 20 years of history, and this production seems to have lost something like thirty minutes, which compounds the issue by making it feel rushed in a ‘let’s get it over with’ sort of way, with characters going into exile and back seeming a bit ‘here we go again’ tiresome. Like other contemporary staging’s, the true nature of Edward & Gaveston’s relationship is more overt but, given the setting of this production, the passionate kisses and embraces seemed at odds with the play. Above all, the story just didn’t engage, or even thrill, as it should. I felt no emotional involvement at all.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a very suitable theatre, and the space is used well. Jessica Worrall’s period costumes are excellent, and the glistening black & gold backdrop takes you to the 14th century. The music mostly suits it, except the use of the West African Kora, beautiful though it is, which seemed totally out of place, conjuring up exotic foreign places rather than medieval Britain. Some of the touches of humour work, like Edward’s propensity to dish out titles played like a running joke, but sometimes it feels a bit flippant. The double and triple casting, using women in male roles, also works, though you have to suspend disbelief when you see a bishop who looks like he’s still at school.

I’ve rarely been disengaged in this lovely theatre by a play I have hitherto found fascinating. Maybe it hasn’t settled yet, but I’m afraid indifference was my primary reaction.

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There is so much incongruity in this show, about events in the early 14th century, that at first I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it. The actors are miked and there are giant screens high up on both sides of the auditorium showing scene titles plus live footage of off-stage scenes, recorded scenes & some live ones. The costumes are an eclectic collection. Kyle Soller uses his natural American accent and women pay the roles of Pembroke & the young Prince Edward. The queen chain-smokes and swigs champagne from the bottle. There’s an onstage electric piano which at one point plays the hokey cokey. Yet there is an extraordinary tension from the outset which keeps you gripped throughout. I loved it.

Playwright Christopher Marlowe, a. contemporary of Shakespeare, was only 29 when he died, yet this is one of four of his plays still regularly produced more than 400 years on. He was more radical than Shakespeare – this play focuses on the king’s male lover and the effect it has on the court and nobility of England! The lover, Galveston, is twice exiled and eventually murdered and his replacements receive the same treatment. The establishment is having none of it and it ultimately leads to the king’s downfall. Homophobia in the 14th century written about in the 16th.

Director Joe Hill-Gibbins presents it as current events unfolding and it works brilliantly. He is lucky to have such a superb ensemble of 22 actors without a weak link. I’ve never seen Vanessa Kirby before and she’s hugely impressive here as the queen. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is wonderful as the power-crazed (young) Mortimer. Casting Bettrys Joes as the young prince makes so much sense when you see how she illuminates the role. From his dangerous first entrance, Kyle Soller is mesmerizing as Galveston and in an inspired move he’s also cast as Edward’s killer. Then there’s John Heffernan’s king, sometimes bursting with passion, sometimes restrained and resigned to the hopelessness of his plight. It’s great to see this terrific actor deliver such a stunning performance on what is arguably Britain’s most important but difficult stage.

This is Edward II out of the closet. Seeing the production made me wonder what Marlowe would have produced if he’d lived to Shakespeare’s age. The competition would have been thrilling and he may well have eclipsed the bard. This captivating production conclusively proves his talent and has to be seen.

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