A review by Laura Anderson for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Em-Lou Productions presents:

Edward II

Written by Christopher Marlowe

Directed by Peter Darney

Rose Theatre

10 Feb - 5 Mar 2011


There is a charming school play like quality about the Rose Theatre and this production, from the lack of toilets in the historic building and folding chairs in the draughty theatre to the Archbishop's hat, which looks like it could be made of cardboard and sticky tape. However once the actors start to speak you forget any doubts that this may be an amateurish endeavour and are completely enveloped by this powerful and passionate adaptation.

We follow Edward II for 20 years of his reign over England (1307-1327) and how he copes with his wife's and his noblemen's vehement dislike of his commoner favourite and lover, Piers Gaveston. As director Darney sums up, it explores the themes of "desire versus duty and wilfulness versus weakness". Marlowe is not as well-known as his Elizabethan contemporary Shakespeare but due to its universal themes this play has often been reinterpreted, most famously by Bertolt Brecht.

The theatre is incredibly intimate, seating around 50 people, and the action takes place a hairsbreadth away from the front row. The audience often finds itself swivelling their heads as action takes place along the aisle by the exit. Being so close and on the same level as the actors, you cannot help but feel involved it the action, especially when you are occasionally directly addressed as a rebel against the king or a royal subject.

The passion of the actors is palpable and the chemistry between Matt Barber and Joseph Bader as Edward and Gaveston is mesmerising. As Darney makes Edward's homosexuality the focal point of his director's note we shouldn't we surprised that he doesn't shy away from this aspect. There is plenty of kissing between his two leads, and sensual touching like a soft caress of an arm or a playful stroke of the nose that makes their lust very believable. In contrast the heterosexual love between Queen Katherine (Zoe Teverson) and Mortimer Junior (Robert Fitch) seems much stiffer, though this could be because it expressed more subtly in comparison.

The sensuality of the adaptation is reflected in their costumes, especially in the plunging necklines of Spenser and Gaveston's tee shirts. Though most characters wear swords, their costumes are comprised of jeans and hand painted t - shirts rather than doublet and hose. Allegiances and pairings are also identifiable by the clothing. The King and Queen are connected by their matching purple and fur capes, and the matching pearl details of the Queen and Gaveston's costumes link them as rivals for Edward's attention.

Despite the fact that the play is set in the same theatre it first appeared in 400 years ago (which was rediscovered in the late 80s and subsequently renovated), this feels like a very modern production. The set, by Nicky Martin-Harper is sparse, with the main prop being a simple grey throne, created by Steve Phillips  that is removed and put onto the stage by the actors. Likewise the stage is simply lit by spotlights. The minimalism of the set and lighting ensures that you are not distracted from the actors and the emotion on their faces. The lack of interval also means that there's no break from the build-up of tension or disengagement from the characters, so by the time the denouement rolls around you're likely to be straining forward in your seat with tense absorption, fist in mouth.

The key to the magic of this piece is the outstanding acting of the actors, Barber as Edward II especially. His performance is always full of energy whether he's consumed with manic longing for his lover, a childish playfulness or roaring anger at the betrayal he experiences. The quiet moments when he projects resignation and sadness are rare, but all the more captivating for it and your eyes are always drawn to him when he is on stage.

A classical RSC type production this is not, but instead one filled with lust, rage, violence and duplicity that makes this play feel fresh and relevant. However though Darney asks in the programme, "Are we any closer to a world where someone can be openly gay and hold power?" the question we are left asking ourselves as we leave the theatre is "What must you do to gain and maintain power?" And this is something debatably much harder to answer and interesting to ponder.


Box office: 0207 261 9565


21 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT

£10.00 / £8.00 concessions Monday to Thursday. £12.00 / £10.00 concessions Friday to Sunday

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