Edward II

Christopher Marlowe
Shakespeare's Globe

This year, Shakespeare's Globe is almost Marlowe's Globe as Kit only loses to Will 3-2 in plays. Marlowe's second, following Dido is a history play that is almost worthy of Shakespeare. Edward II features the all-male cast already seen in a play that has many similarities, Richard II.

There are very significant differences too. The play's editor Charles Forker makes this clear when he says that this is "The only Renaissance tragedy in an officially homophobic age to present a gay character with insight and sympathy". What seems acceptable today most assuredly was not when the play was written.

Liam Brennan's Edward has made a diplomatic marriage to the rather masculine Isabella (Chu Omambala), sister to the French King. While she loves Mortimer (Justin Shevlin), a truly unpleasant man, the king is absolutely besotted with Piers Gaveston (Gerald Kydd).

The long-haired, rather camp Gaveston has turned the King's head to such an extent that he hardly cares about the security of his realm, simultaneously threatened by France, Scotland and Ireland.

As a result of Edward's neglect of his duties, his noblemen, his Queen and the church, represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury (William Osborne), form an alliance to depose him.

It is inevitable that tragedy will ensue and by the first interval of the 3¼ hour production, Gaveston is doomed. Brennan is good throughout but excels in the speech in which the distraught King laments the loss of his love.

The fickle Edward is not a bad man but neither is he cut out to be a ruler. He does have a novel approach to winning over his subjects, he gives them titles by the cart-load. Gaveston alone gets four while by the end, nobody has missed out.

He is eventually brought to utter degradation and ultimately imprisonment and death, arguably all for love. In fact, it is the result of the scheming of Mortimer, ostensibly supporting the Queen and her son, the next Edward (Richard Glaves - also a very convincing Lady Margaret). In reality, Mortimer is almost like Richard III, his overweening ambition too hard to hide.

As always at the Globe, the costumes, designed by Imogen Ross and Jenny Tiramani, are wonderfully colourful and the stage has an attractive triptych backcloth to complement Miss Tiramani's solid set.

Timothy Walker's production catches the period well. Not only does it look right but the music fits and he has asked his actors to use pronunciations that would have been familiar 400 years ago. His decision to play down some of the more gruesome aspects, with battle portrayed in a dance and Edward's death on the end of a symbolic poker, bloodless might have gone down less well with an Elizabethan audience.

Walker's memorable final image does much to redress the balance as the King's coffin, with Mortimer's bloody, bagged head are overseen by young Edward's throne.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

Are you sure?