Friday, 4 October 2013

Review of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II at the National Theatre

I bought tickets for this production way back in the summer.  I agonised over whether to read the reviews before I saw the production, and in the event, only read one – which wasn’t a good one, to put it mildly.  

Arriving at the theatre, my heart sank a little at the scenery – which looked like a disused warehouse.  The play started with Edward II’s coronation, with the actor playing Edward pausing for long periods for effect as the king made his vows.  This was promising, I thought.  But from that point, the play proved a huge disappointment.  The play had no clear setting – it was a mixture of traditional and modern – the king wearing casual trousers but a magnificent golden robe and sitting on a fine throne.  Actors were wearing suits of armour – but with animal heads.  And then some characters changed sex.  I could cope with the Earl of Pembroke becoming a woman – and I mean being referred to as ‘she’, and not an actress playing the role as a man.  But what I couldn’t cope with was Edward’s brother, the Duke of Kent, being a woman – so, he no longer had a brother, but a sister.  What this added to the play, I just don’t get.  The actress playing the role wore a ‘power-dressing’ trouser suite with high heels, and spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly around the stage with no real purpose.

Naturally, I awaited Piers Gaveston’s arrival with eagerness.  The actor playing him, Kyle Soller, made his entrance from the back of the stalls, climbing up on a wall and holding onto a railing.  This production makes it quite clear that the prejudice the barons have against Piers is that he is an upstart and as a Gascon, an outsider.  Which is why I presume he spoke with an American accent.  True, Soller is an American, but did they really have to have Piers speaking in an American accent to hammer home he was an outsider?  In a way, Soller’s performance stereotyped Piers as a brash American.  And Piers was clad in jeans and a leather jacket to just hammer it home further.  Apart from the accent, Soller gave a reasonable performance, and John Heffernan as Edward II aroused some sympathy for Edward, but the production also showed how petulant and, no other word for it, lurid, Edward and Piers’ behaviour could be.  However, there were some parts of the play which were actually played for laughs, which just seemed so wrong.  

The most annoying aspect of this production was the use of 2 screens on either side of the stage which was used to film the actors when hidden on the stage or at the side of the stage.  OK, it was adventurous – but when I go to the theatre, I would like to see the actors live on stage.  The stage set incorporated collapsible staging with ‘rooms’ on stage that the audience couldn’t see – so we had to rely on the screens whilst the actors were filmed on sometimes shaky video cameras.  We were presented with the nobles plotting against Gaveston on 2 giant video screens with the actors actually on stage but unable to be seen by the audience.  Similar scenes included ‘Spencer’ and Baldock being filmed outside the theatre and being relayed on screen.  We were also treated to Edward, Piers and their followers ‘partying’ with occasional flashes of light, bodies merged together and blaring music.  There were more scenes presented like this, but hopefully you get the gist of my gripe of using screens/cameras instead of us seeing the scenes on the actual stage.
Vanessa Kirby’s Queen Isabella drank and smoked too much, summoning her son, the prince, to refill her glass and light her cigarettes which caused much of the audience to howl with laughter.  Likewise when Edward and Piers enjoyed an extremely long, passionate kiss, not caring who saw them, and then a 3 way kiss with Spencer, a lot of the audience laughed – purely because the production played it for laughs. 
As for Prince Edward – ok, I could cope with an actress playing the prince, but her age and size were inappropriate.  Queen Isabella had to carry this ‘child’ at some points – a fully-grown woman dressed in shorts and a blazer!  Ridiculous!  Even more so was the tune of the Hokey Cokey after a battle scene – yes, honestly!
As in the previous production of Edward II I saw about 2 years ago, the ‘murderer’ Lightborn was played by the same actor who had played one of the king’s favourites – previously it was ‘Spencer’, and now it was Kyle Soller who played Gaveston – clearly to add to the drama of the murder of the king.  First we had to suffer Edward shuffling around the back of the stage in shorts and t-shirt, being filmed on a handheld camera and viewed on the giant screens.  A huge plastic sheet was brought out, and we have Edward pinned down and murdered by the red hot poker and then dragged off stage by the plastic sheet.  
One review I read said the production was like Marmite – you’ll either love it or hate it.  I can’t say that I hated it – but it was certainly a huge disappointment, with far too many gimmicky things going on.
Vanessa Kirby as Queen Isabella, John Heffernan as Edward II, Kyle Soller as Piers Gaveston




Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Sounds terrible! And no laughing matter at all, especially for someone being an expert in Edward II and his era. I'm no fan of introducing something modern into history plays only for modern's sake, or because someone thinks that today in every single performance such oddities should be introduced.

Anerje said...

Hi Kasia. I can cope with Christopher Marlowe's inaccuracies - after all, it is a drama - but gimmicks such as video cameras and lines played for laughs are a step too far. Like you say, they were introduced only 'for modern's sake'. It was just so disappointing.

Kathryn Warner said...

Great review, Anerje! (Sorry for not commenting before, I've been away and not online much). It sounds pretty dire, unfortunately. I do know a couple of people who loved it - as you said, it's a Marmite thing - but I'm fairly sure I wouldn't. Messing around with gimmicks just for the sake of it would annoy me.

Anerje said...

Yes I've missed your posts Kathryn. The Rose Theatre production was SO much better!

Don said...

It doesn't sound like my thing at all, I'm afraid. Missed your posts--I temporarily lost track of your blog when Blogger dumped its "follow" feature.

Anerje said...

Hi Don. It's taken me a while to get used to Blogger - I'm a novice anyway.

I just felt the use of video, changing sex etc was purely done as gimmicks and added nothing to the play - they actually took away from it.

Gabriele C. said...

Sounds like most German opera performances. Which is why I get the DVDs from the Met and the Scala these days and kissed the local theatres farewell. :-)