“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” or so the saying goes. But, what is power in this context? For example, an absolute monarch appears to have total power over their domain but, in reality, this is an illusion and their hold on the throne and all that goes with it is very fragile and subject to the will of many others. Lazarus Theatre Company demonstrates this superbly in their new production of Marlowe’s Edward II at the Greenwich Theatre.
Edward I is dead and his fourth son inherits the throne and assumes the title of Edward II (Timothy Blore). Edward is young, only 23 at the time of his accession, and his youth shows when, despite all the warnings of his court, Edward invites his favourite minion Piers Gaveston (Oseloka Obi) to return to England and join his court. Although not a nobleman by birth, Edward bestows titles on Gaveston creating him, Earl of Cornwall and raising him to the highest ranks of the English nobility. This causes anger among the rest of the court who resent both Gaveston’s preferment and his relationship with the king, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely intimate, much to the fury of Edward’s wife, Queen Isabella (Alicia Charles). Isabella works with the leaders of the nobles – Warwick (John Slade), Lancaster (Stephen Emery) the Archbishop of Canterbury (David Clayton) and the two Mortimer’s (Jamie O’Neil and Stephen Smith). Of all his court, only Edward’s half-brother, the Duke of Kent (Alex Zur) initially remains loyal to the king but as things progress and Gaveston’s hold over the king becomes stronger, while the king’s hold on the throne becomes more fragile, even Kent abandons Edward and Piers to their respective fates.
Lazarus Theatre have taken a well-known classic and added their own particular twist to it with this version of Edward II. Adapted and directed by Ricky Dukes, this version reduces the number of characters and has a nice running time of roughly 90 minutes. There are no 13th or 16th-century costumes – indeed all of the male characters initially look like Wall Street Bankers – and the majority of the play’s setting appears to be in a large office. And it really works. The story comes alive from the opening as the various characters take to the stage and continually pace around glaring at each other. The animosity and scheming are palpable in the atmosphere as the announcement is heard that Edward I is dead. From that moment, the play moves fast – my companion on the evening who hadn’t seen it before was surprised at how much happened in a relatively short space of time.
Speaking of costumes and I recently saw a programme in which they discussed the origins of crowns. Basically, a monarch wore a crown to reflect light and create a halo effect around their head. If that is so, then the one Costume Designer Cristiano Casimiro puts on Edward’s head is perfect. It is stunning to look at and creates exactly the right effect, especially as it is slightly big and Edward has to adjust it often, making it look, from my perspective as if the character wasn’t quite ready to become king. Timothy Blore’s Edward is young and naive. He is portrayed perfectly almost as a childish innocent who believes in the divine right of kings and doesn’t understand why everyone won’t just let him do what he wants when he wants, with whom he wants without argument. Oseloka Obi’s Gaveston was more difficult a character to fathom out. I’ve never really been sure of Gaveston’s motivation. Was he using the king to get preferment or did he genuinely love Edward? Although Obi gave an excellent performance, I still didn’t feel any nearer a solution to that conundrum by the end. Alicia Charles brings a nice touch of the shunned female to the role of Queen Isabella and, really proves the old proverb, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, especially when she can see a rather tasty replacement in the shape of young Mortimer in the wings. In fact, everyone from Edward down was young and very attractive to behold. Luckily, they pretty much had the talent to match the attractiveness.
Of the whole production, which was fast and quite frenetic at times, my favourite part was the build-up to the final scene. No spoilers in case you don’t know the story, but I really liked the way the atmosphere built up as we got closer to the rather surprising ending which, considering I am terrified by clowns, I absolutely loved – the final denouement being really good to hear.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Edward II. It is not perfect – some of the musical and lighting elements, in particular, didn’t quite cut the mustard – but for me, it delivered the wonderful lyricism of Marlowe’s words in a modern setting that worked very well. Lazarus Theatre company are starting a year-long residency at the Greenwich Theatre and Edward II was a fine start to their tenure.
Review by Terry Eastham
“Why would you love him who the world hates so? Because he loves me more than all the world.”
The King is dead. His son, Edward II, is crowned King. His first act: to call home from banishment his lover, Gaveston.
Lazarus Theatre Company’ acclaimed production of Marlowe’s epic tragedy comes to the stage in this all-new ensemble production, returning after a sell-out London run in 2017 marking 50 years since the start of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.
16 – 27 January 2018