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EDWARD II at the National Theatre

October 23, 2013

Christopher Marlowe’s EDWARD II at the Olivier Theatre was a very suitable production to see this week as the National Theatre reaches 50 years of age. A good age! I have experienced some incredible life changing transformations in the Olivier Theatre. My first play there was the revival of Martin Sherman‘s “Bent” with Ian McKellen and Christopher Eccleston in 1990 which gave me a vehicle to reflect my torture of hiding my love from the world. Tony Kushner‘s “Angels in America Part 1” in 1992 foreshadowed my own future experiences with Angels in 1998. EDWARD II is a play which also deals with the subject of the effects homosexuality in society. I found myself reflecting again on my own very painful experiences of being marginalised and eventually deposed of my position in my business career because of supposedly my openness about my love.

The title page from the play published in 1598 says it all: The troublesome reign and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England: with the tragical fall of proud Mortimer: And also the life and death of Piers Gaveston, the great Earl of Cornwall, and mighty favourite of King Edward the second, as it was publicly acted by the right honourable the Earl of Pembroke his servants.

I am not a fan of live video in theatre but director Joe Hill Gibbins uses live video feeds very cleverly in this production to create an extra dimension expanding both the scale and detail of the story. This production has left me with the feeling that I have a deep understanding of the history. Somehow the combination of very contemporary elements of some of the design with elements of the period such as costume made this history really come alive. There was a raw realism to this production which felt connected to the space.

Edward II is brought to life with such remarkable tenderness by John Heffernan that you have no choice but to love him. His performance is outstanding. The other stand out performance for me was Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Mortimer the younger. I could feel in him all of the forceful treachery that was needed to defeat this sweet King. These two are surrounded by the usual very high quality performances from an experienced cast.

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