Tag Archives: Christopher Marlowe

“Edward II” at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

While few productions at Shakespeare’s Globe lack contemporary touches, it doesn’t seem too reactionary to suggest that the venue’s glorious indoor site needs them the least. Nobody wants theatrical reconstruction – impossible anyway – but seeing a play in a manner close to that experienced by Christopher Marlowe’s original audience is a special thrill. Congratulations to director Nick Bagnall for this surprisingly traditional affair. Ironically, amidst so many interpretations and so much theory in the theatre, it makes for a refreshing change.

While Bagnall presents the story of England’s troubled king and his love affair with lower-class servants simply – making great use of the space, particularly the candlelight, and its unique intimacy – he isn’t enthralled by the text. As a strict editor, he presents a complex plot efficiently and isn’t held captive by it. Doubling – and trebling – of roles by the hardworking cast is expertly handled (special praise for Annette Badland and Sanchia McCormack), making the action clear throughout.

Plot is to the fore – it’s an interesting story, after all. Emotional impact is ensured by strong performances, primarily from Tom Stuart in the lead role, who gives us a man it’s hard not to sympathise with, despite his flaws. There’s charismatic work from Beru Tessema as Edward’s first love, Gaveston, and a superb performance from Colin Ryan as the replacement in the king’s affections, Spencer. Cleverly, there’s little eroticism in the production – the men’s concern is with status more than sexuality – and, arguably, Bagnall takes us closer to Marlowe’s concerns than contemporary ones.

A focus on the action does deprive us on one point, though. While it’s clear an effort has been made to make the role of Edward’s queen central, Katie West struggles with the part. Isabella’s own obsession with Edward, an essential counterpoint that could make her seem just as unstable as her husband, is missing. Even worse, the depths of Isabella’s relationship with the treacherous Mortimer (Jonathan Livingstone) – that they “kiss while they conspire” – are unexplored. The delivery of these fascinating characters is far too flat.

This is a close study of the play, which has resulted in careful insight. Polly Frame’s Kent has a wonderful final scene: as the shock of the character’s execution dawns, her role comes into focus magically. And there’s terrific work from composer Bill Barclay. Bagnall deals superbly with a text that, while containing wonderful poetry – delivered especially well by Stuart and Tessema – also has a lot of narrative detail. Constant direct appeals to the audience (making us Edward’s judges many times) and a remarkable dynamism in the performances all add to a solid, quality production.

Until 20 April 2019

www.shakespearesglobe.com

“Edward II” at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Lazarus Theatre’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s play has much to recommend it. Director Ricky Dukes’ 90-minute adaptation shows a sharp intelligence: practical, dramatically effective and unwilling to patronising the audience. The story of the gay king’s disastrous reign benefits from strong visuals: Dukes and his designer Sorcha Corcoran, working with Ben Jacobs on lighting, produce some marvellous imagery within this tiny space. The creativity and imagination here is the stuff that makes the fringe so great.

The nine-strong ensemble stays on stage throughout and proves a disciplined crew. Making up a rebellious peerage, the actors ensure that confrontations with the King bristle with anger. Andrew Gallo and Jamie O’Neill are especially strong as the brothers Mortimer, with the latter detailing his treachery with a mix of violence and intrigue.

Luke Ward-Wilkinson takes the title role and goes for a fey monarch who is impish and petulant. Arguably, this cheats the play of some tension (conflicts seems a foregone conclusion). And it also short changes Edward’s relationship to his wife – a shame, since Lakesha Cammock makes a very fine Queen Isabella. But Ward-Wilkinson’s decision is committed and consistent, getting humour out of the role as well as passion. It’s also brave. Dukes’ vision for Edward’s notorious assassination is nightmarish, kinky and demands a lot from his cast. The ensemble are all in their pants, with disposable aprons and gloves. Believe me, it’s creepy. The addition of masks goes too far, only causing confusion – are the same characters in disguise and, if so, why bother? But this is not a scene you’re likely to forget in a hurry.

The finale is certainly memorable with Ward-Wilkison naked and sprayed with blood from the ceiling – another memorable tableau. Yet the real strengths of the production are simpler: tight directorial control and technically strong delivery all round. Dukes and his team have produced a piece of remarkable clarity. It may be too blunt for some tastes, but you can’t argue with its force or the skill on stage.

Until 9 September 2017

www.lazarustheatrecompany.com

Photo by Adam Trigg

“Edward II” at the National Theatre

Director Joe Hill-Gibbins made his debut at the National Theatre last night with a radical version of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. He’s the King whose murder with a red hot poker makes him the medieval monarch schoolboys remember. This crazy collage of show revels in incongruous touches, using our current National anthem and the hokey cokey in its soundtrack, and wrenches the personal from an explicitly political text. Best of all, it boasts a lead performance from John Heffernan that must not be missed.

Hill-Gibbins’ inventive staging is bracing – a bag of tricks that updates Marlowe with a defiantly energetic touch. Projecting live films onto the walls, including scenes in an inside-out room (reminiscent of a Rachel Whiteread sculpture) that the audience cannot see into, gives a sense of intimacy and conspiracy. There are touches that will ruffle feathers – brash, bold and sexy – including the longest snog I’ve seen on a stage for a while. But the production is never obtuse; the court and its conflicts are consistently presented as a game played by debauched egoists.

The “base, leaden Earls” are deliberately overblown, outraged by the explicitness of Edward’s love for his minion Gaveston rather than questions of social status. Two roles, transformed into female parts, stand out, with Kirsty Bushell as Kent and Penny Layden as Pembroke, displaying sympathy toward the King that injects pathos. The biggest problem is for Edward’s wife Isabella. Vanessa Kirby proclaims her love for the King, between drags of her fag and swigs of bolly, well enough, but the production focuses so much on Edward’s homosexuality that it denies tension between the two of them.

Jpeg 8 - NTedward
Kyle Soller

Gaveston, the “ruin of the realm”, is performed by Kyle Soller with magnificent dynamism – when he kneels to the King it’s as if he’s about to start a race. In Soller’s performance the morbid playfulness of the production genuinely unnerves. But the suffering is all Edward’s and the scenes of his torture, filmed and projected throughout the final act, makes this a gruelling role that establishes Heffernan as an important actor. Despite the manic action around him, Heffernan has the power to create a stillness and deliver Marlowe’s poetry magnificently.

Until 26 October 2013

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 5 September 2013 for The London Magazine

“Doctor Faustus” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Thanks to the film Shakespeare in Love we think of Christopher Marlowe as more celebrated in his own day than Shakespeare. Now, of course, his work is performed far less frequently, making any production an event, especially when Shakespeare’s own Globe conjures up its first production of Doctor Faustus.

Director Matthew Dunster does his best to make the story of the man who sells his soul to the devil resonate with a contemporary audience. The emphasis is on magic rather than religion – a sound move in our agnostic times – aided admirably with a soundscape from Jules Maxwell.

But Doctor Faustus poses problems. With roots in morality plays, 16th-century concerns and seemingly impossible stage effects, several scenes are potentially odd to modern eyes. Dunster’s solutions are admirable, using wit, imagination and strong doses of broad humour to engage: Georgina Lamb’s choreography is a capable distraction when the Doctor meets the seven deadly sins, the Pope becomes a comic mafia don, and a castle in the air is a simple inflatable balloon that floats off over the South Bank.

Paul Hilton is a model of clarity in the title role. Fingers stained with ink, this scholar-turned-magus’s pride is painfully convincing and, if he lacks the sensual touch that comes to dominate a man “ravished” by desires, his relationship with Arthur Darvill’s commendably understated Mephistopheles is electric.

Dunster injects a huge amount of movement into what is potentially rather a static play, and his tautly controlled ensemble works hard, peopling the world Faustus plays in. Of particular note are Charlotte Broom and Beatriz Romilly as the angels who fight over Faustus’ soul with samurai swords. With flashy touches such as this, Dunster grapples with Marlowe’s mighty play in a magical fashion and does not sell Doctor Faustus short.

Until 2 October 2011

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 24 June 2011 for The London Magazine