Given that Edward II is a major production by the National, you may wonder why it’s only getting mini-review status from me. I’ll summarize it quickly:
Yes, many of the most emotionally fraught scenes of Edward II are marred, not just by having large, distracting video projections on both sides of the stage, but by actually having the actors perform WHERE YOU CAN’T SEE THEM, in a little room in the middle of the stage where “secret things” happen. This was maybe acceptable for the scene where Edward (John Heffernan), Gaveston (Kyle Soller), and Spencer (Nathaniel Martello-White) were having some kind of a party; but under no circumstances to I expect to have to watch a scene take place ON GIANT TV SCREENS when the actors are RIGHT THERE ON STAGE. I was especially wanting to tear my hair out during the scene where Edward is captured at a monastery. It’s thoughtful, sad, painful: and yet it was performed for the camera rather than for me, sitting right there in the third row (£12, a great price!). Seriously, I do NOT come to the theater to watch TV, or to watch actors talking to a camera. There’s a whole PROGRAM of events for people who like that kind of stuff, it’s called the NT Live, but I was actually WATCHING THE NT IN THE FREAKING THEATER AND I EXPECTED TO BE WATCHING ACTORS AND NOT A TV SCREEN.
So have we established that I had some serious problems with this play? I think so. Yet I stayed after the interval when 15% of the audience walked out. I can’t say why they left – maybe boys kissing is a problem for them, maybe the weather was just to gorgeous to be ignored – but I stayed because this was, while not emotionally engaging, still the best Marlowe I had ever seen. I was also freshly engaged in Edward’s story after having just been to Dunstanbugh Castle (it was built by the Earl of Lancaster, who captured Edward’s favorite, Gaveston – and it stands in ruins! What happened?) and very much on a bit of a history kick after seeing the Globe’s production of the Henry VI plays. So I wanted to know the story of Edward II, even if told through Marlowe’s eyes.
Oddly, in the end it was the women who held my attention – Kent, Edward’s sibling (Kirsty Bushell, cross-cast as his sister, with a lovely voice and a role I was willing to believe was historically female); Isabella, his queen (Vanessa Kirkby, regal, gorgeous, and the one person who managed to tug my heartstrings as she was sent to the Tower by her son); and the (also cross-cast) Pembroke (Penny Layden, the only one of the barons who actually seemed to care for Edward). I couldn’t really connect to any of the men, but watching Isabella, who loves Edward, make decisions that seemed Machiavellian but really were just based on ensuring the best chances for her son to, not just be king, but live … it was really very, very hard, and utterly believable. The men, well, they were busy acting for the cameras. It was still a well written play excellently acted, but I found it didn’t move me.
(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on September 5th, 2013. It is in performance until October 26th.)
Tags: Christopher Marlowe, Edward II, Galveston is just a city in Texas, John Heffernan, Kirsty Bushell, Kyle Soller, Nathaniel Martello-White, National Theater, National Theatre, Penny Layden, please no more animated projections on stage, travelex £12 series, Vanessa Kirkby