Review: Edward II

Greg Forrest 29 October 2014

Marlowe has some great tragedies, and some that seem to lack any emotion or intrigue at all; Edward II lies somewhere in-between. It is certainly a tricky play to pull off and despite some genuinely inspired moments, Elias Wynshaw’s production falls short.

The main issue with the production is the impact of its gender-blind casting. There is nothing to say that having Edward (Lauren Brown) and ‘his’ flatterer, Gaveston (Eloise Poulton), as women cannot work, but for a play where the central sin is ‘Edward’s looseness’ for his same-sex companion, the gender politics have to be clearly defined. In this production, Edward is referred to in one moment as ‘he’ and the next ‘she’. Such contradictions are rife throughout the script and the audience is left slightly bewildered.

Nevertheless, many of the performances were worthy of credit. Eleanor Mack stood out for her impassioned portrayal of Isabella, the sometimes devoted, sometimes manipulative wife of the king. In one particularly moving scene, when Edward proposes to her that their rekindling love will be like ‘a second marriage’, Mack’s response of ‘may it be happier than the first’ is perfect. Her tone perfectly encapsulates a bitter reflectiveness with a desperate optimism – quite simply, wonderful.

Another impressive performance is given by Isobel Laidler. In her brief moments on stage Laidler manages to instil a sense of elegance into her roles – she has been severely underused. Having said this, she does need to project slightly more; having a pair of air conditioning units whirring through the entire play is not only uncomfortable but occasionally means actors become inaudible, despite the small size of the venue.

Technically the show is very mixed. The costumes appear to be the result of a small budget stretched too far, whilst the props hit and miss; Edward’s sceptre being a very gaudy miss. However the set is impressive; a traverse stage with a commanding looking throne positioned opposite a set of table and chairs creates a clever tension between the domestic and the public spheres which the show toys with. Also the lighting is impressive considering how minimal the rig was. Praise should be given to Wynshaw’s ability to cue the show in-between moments of acting on stage.

Overall some strong individual performances are left confused by a script that hasn’t been properly adapted to its casting choices. It is a clunky production that is full of charm.

6/10

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'Edward II' is playing at Pembroke New Cellars at 7pmpm until Saturday 1st. Get your tickets online at https://www.adcticketing.com/whats-on/drama/edward-ii.aspx