Edward II

Theatre, Drama
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 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

The NT could scarcely have staged a more yoof-courting/blue-rinse-brigade-baiting season opener than this if it had gone the whole hog and kicked September off with a One Direction concert.

Okay, that’s not quite fair: Joe Hill-Gibbins’s hyper-stylised take on Marlowe’s 1592 tragedy would clearly scare the crap out of your average

tween. Nonetheless, Hill-Gibbins has very definitely brought the spirit of the Young Vic – the hip theatre where he works as deputy artistic director – over for a far from straight reading.

Not that ‘straight’ is particularly appropriate for ‘Edward II’, seeing as it’s fairly unambiguously a love story between two men: the monarch and his brash favourite Piers Gaveston. That said, I’m pretty sure Marlowe would have had a heart attack at the amount of snogging that John Heffernan’s Edward and Kyle Soller’s Gaveston indulge in here. Nonetheless, these two terrific actors give this eye-popping evening its beating heart.

Natural American accent to the fore, Soller is effortlessly charismatic as a skinny-jeans-wearing Gaveston – I won’t spoil details of how he makes his first entrance, but it’s a) spectacular and b) pretty impressive that modern health and safety rules permit him to do it.

But Heffernan is the real key – frail and handsome, he spends most of the first half giving in to his appetites and most of the second suffering intensely as his nobles debate his fate after purging his lovers. Even at his most feckless he is intensely moving, an affable young gay man utterly trapped by his birth.

Around these two lovers, then, is a swirling, postmodern maelstrom of a production, where modern dress and medieval garb collide in Alex Lowde’s stunningly sinister costumes; where claustrophobic scenes take place out of sight, relayed by camera on to giant projection screens; where the set is a flatpack that reveals the backstage area; where everything is daubed with blackly ironic humour. It is aggressively modern and occasionally a bit of a mess, rarely seeking to compensate for the clunkier moments in the script (the first half hour is basically Edward changing his mind four times on whether to banish Gaveston).

But while the sprinkling who left at the interval clearly disagreed with me, I felt it all had a point, conveying the sickly decadence and severance from reality of the Plantagenet court, a tenuous twilight world of intense power and intense danger. Charles – take note.

By Andrzej Lukowski


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Event website: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
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Average User Rating

3.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:1
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Ultimately disappointing and frankly, only innovative it you have had your head in a bucket for the last decade of theatrical invention. Billed as thrilling and ground-breaking, it never goes half far enough emotionally or sexually. Desperately trying WAY too hard to be edgy, this mash-up of a production embraces all the shaky camera angles, nonsensical cross-dressing and inappropriately-judged comic takes on straight lines of a typically cringe-making GCSE drama practical: with woeful results. A couple of nearly excellent performances are stymied by dodgy direction, but most struggle to convey any real sense of character or truth.

Really fabulous - everything you expect it to be, don't expect it to be, and more besides. This production will never be applauded for it's visual subtlety, with it's deconstructed set, polyethene sheeting and era-confused costumes, but it captures perfectly the raging chaos of Edward's time. Kyle Soller and John Hefcernan make a compelling Edward and Gaveston, at times bringing a wonderful boyish playfulness to their roles. My only criticism is that, although the video sections are both innovative and occasionally amusing ( Spencer and Baldock's entrance was definitely a high point), they are sometimes a little distracting when action is also occurring on stage. I loved it, but it seems a little like Marmite - love it or hate it.

You know something's up the moment you walk in: the actors are chatting on the stage, the flatpack scenery is hanging midair and mock medieval lanterns flicker above you. And then - boom! - the play starts not on the stage but from the stalls, with a hunky American actor leaping over the audience. I've not seen anything like it, and nor have you. The National's never been bolder, and Marlowe's 1592 play never fresher. Go see.

A bold post-modern interpretation that exemplifies why Joe Hill-Gibbons is one of the most exciting and daring directors in London. Certainly not to everyone's tastes, but I think the cameras are a stroke of genius, bringing a sense of intimacy to the vast Olivier by showcasing the shadowy interactions of those plotting against Edward II and a hyper-awareness of John Heffernan's expressive reactions. It's great to see a fresh, punk perspective give new life to a Marlowe classic.

While I can see why this is not to everyone's taste, I thought this was a cracking production. It is bold and interesting, and unlike anything I've ever seen at the National. It is a visual feast combined with great performances. Some will dismiss the use of video as gimmicky, but it worked for me. John Heffernan gives one of the performances of the year as Edward and has great chemistry with Kyle Soller as his lover. It's hard to believe that the play was written over four hundred years ago. Recommended.

This is a terribly misjudged production which is unusual for the NT. I found it incredibly frustrating to be left looking at an empty stage whilst offstage action was projected on screens in the auditorium. I should say that I saw this in previews but I can't see it being rescued. The production seemed chaotic, messy and inconsistent in tone.

This production is a strange blend. On the one hand it offers a now over familiar reading of the Edward/Gaveston relationship as a sexual one. Derek Jarman did it much better. Also this sexual reading marginalises the class politics of Marlowe's play. As a result the multiple meanings of the emotional landscape of relations between the sovereign and the social and political elites, the established landed gentry and the nouveau rich, gets dumbed down if not lost. On the other hand there are some hints of brilliance in the staging. At times video projection is used to great effect to create a variety of parallel spaces in the court of Edward II and to heighten tension at key points in the tragedy. At other times its little more than boys playing with their video toys on stage. As for the acting there's a bit too much running around and shouting for my liking. It doesn't help to bring out the richness of the play. For me there was a distinct difference between the two halves of the show. The second half has much more emotional intensity. Overall a bit disappointing.

I only give this 4 stars as I only saw the first preview last night. The show doubled up as the productions first dress rehearsal. It was all thrillingly a little rough around the edges as previews often are. However, this is going to be an awesome show. Great performances are already visible throughout and an imaginative/production set that leans towards a more European take on the story. Get your tickets and enjoy the clarity,verve and bravery of this show.