Regicide at the National
Love theatre, I do. Was going to attempt a career out of it, back as a star-gazing bairn all those years ago, before getting sucked into the Charybdis that is Erotic Review, with all its glitzy parties and wooden dildo reviews and arched eyebrows when you tell anyone who you write for. It’s a theatre all of its own this lark, I tell you.
Anyway DIGRESSIONS: last week I toddled off to the National to see director Joe Hill-Gibbins’ Edward II. Always awkward, for me, going along to press nights as an ER rep: people expect you to turn up nipple-clamped to the nines, brandishing a cat-o-nine-tails and shooting everyone come hithers. Instead your intrepid reviewer turns up sweaty, be-cardiganed and gasping for a drink, then remembers it’s having a ‘dry September’ and proceeds to sulk all through the interval, making actual notes about the play in a way it has never really done before. It even left with its coat, this time.
In case you didn’t know, Ed2‘s about sex. Kingship and power and loyalty and cunning, too but, y’know, mainly sex. Edward’s the newly-crowned king, complete with a swish cape, good looks, a nice, blond little nuclear family and a problemus maximus. The issue is, he wants Gaveston – Gaveston of the long limbs and the doe-eyes, Gaveston the Dalston hipster who’d be better off mooning around edgy burger joints in Hoxton than crowing the royal court looking for a bit of suttin’ suttin’. Shimmying down through the stalls, hanging off the arm-rails as he makes his entrance, I couldn’t help but smile, and wriggle a bit. Of course poor Ed wants to bone him, look how alternative he is, how give-a-shit, how irreverent. Gaveston wants to drink and dance and give backstage BJs: Edward’s barons, however, aren’t so keen.
Edward II‘s the tale of a stand-off: the story of what can happen if neither side refuses to back down. Gaveston is exiled, re-called, exiled again. He drapes himself around the throne, teases the court’s bishops, openly fornicates with his king. Kyle Soller brought out aspects of the character that often remain hidden, over-subtle, in productions or even readings of this play. Even so, strutting like a peacock, he conveys that sense of boyish vulnerability which so colours the role: the confusion at being asked to leave, the wonderment that Edward can continue to tear himself apart with confusion over that age-old question: love or duty, duty or love. John Heffernan as Edward gets better as the action progresses, and a slightly flat opening may well be blamed on Kit Marlowe’s script which deliberately posits his lover as the shining star.
There were some issues with set: namely an over-reliance on overhead projector screens, which documented ‘off-stage’ goings-on in a disembodied, slightly Big Brother-esque fashion. It worked in several instances, where claustrophobia was definitely the ticket, but was overly relied-upon. But besides this slight hiccup set-designer Lizzie Clachan has neatly juggled ultra-modernity with the stuffiness and pomp of the palace: the favour of balance located firmly in the former.
I liked Vanessa Kirby as Isabella – if only because it’s a rare treat to see a Renaissance woman thus depicted, knocking back the vintage cava and chain-smoking as her husband’s balls-deep in a prole. She manages to extract the humour in an otherwise tragic set of circumstances, hissing and scheming across the stage in a much-coveted (by me) floor-length red sequin dress.
Part of the pleasure of Renaissance tragedies lies in the utter inevitability of people being absolutely beastly to each other, and wonderfully blingy, vaguely BDSM costumes were used to elicit this (I won’t tell you how Edward dies, because that would be a spoiler, despite the fact you may not have known he dies anyway, in which case I’ve totally spoiled everything, soz, but rest assured it’s grim). Everything in this production is beige, rather than gold, because Edward’s is a hollow crown. It’s a tacky music video gone wrong, leaving everyone writhing and screeching and pissed and furious, like a Friday night spent in New Cross, only bloodier. The audience acts as voyeur and judge simultaneously, and yet everyone’s culpable. All those nooks and crannies and crevices we’re not meant to see are opened up at the Olivier until October 19th: they’ll leave you feeling like you need to see it again, because there’s so much going on in this bizarrely stained carnival. Or, as one exhausted-looking punter gasped desperately on our way out, ‘Wine. I need a glass of wine.’
Lucky for some, I thought, and trudged off.
Christopher Marlowe, Edward II. National Theatre, Olivier Theatre; suitable for 15yrs+; tickets £12, £24, £34; until Saturday 26th October 2013. See here for details.