Kissing while they Conspire…

Timothy Bano previews Marlowe’s Edward II, a tale of infamous lovers, ruthless noblemen and execution by red hot poker.


Edward II? Is that one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, like The Weary Wives of Warwick or Razzmatazz? Apparently not – it is by Christopher Marlowe. It tells the story of Edward II (really?) and Piers Gaveston, his lover. When Gaveston is put to death, Edward goes to war against the nobles and loses. He is particularly famous for his execution: having a red hot poker thrust where a red hot poker should not be.

It is not difficult to see why Edward loses against the nobles. They are a bunch of butch and burly men dressed in suits, while Edward is lithe and skinny, camp, buttons undone. And Gaveston is wearing only a vest. The nobles have no qualms about shouting at him, to his face, criticising his ability to rule. The scene is a visual reflection of the situation: the throne is too big for Edward (Alex Stutt); he would rather enjoy himself with his favourite Gaveston than run the kingdom. The noblemen are much of a muchness, but Stutt is completely different; he is not overacting, but overreacting and over-emotional. And he is all limbs – I did not know arms could move in those directions. Josh Booth as both Gaveston and Lightborn (the executioner) is good – he switches his role well, but sometimes speaks a little too quickly and it seems as though he is holding back.

Isabella the neglected Queen, played by Phoebe Hames, is a cut above. She speaks so well, so clearly and her voice is dripping with emotion. In one scene this noble woman, whom one expects to be emotionally uptight, completely unravels on stage: crying, reminiscing, shouting and still proclaiming her love for her husband. She has the ability to make the centuries-old words seem natural and, more importantly, comprehensible. Emily Warren as Matrevis is also very good; she proves that you do not have to shout to act; instead she is quiet, calm and seems a little bored by all the palace intrigue. She is actually a little bit frightening. 

The staging is simple: a throne sits to one side flanked by regal banners and the dramatic effects are achieved by lighting. There is some quick and nifty fencing from the actors, who clearly enjoy whipping out their swords from their side. And the execution scene is excellent, it had me squirming in my seat. I do not know whether it is meant to be ironic that the same actor plays Gaveston and the executioner since the latter, at least, sticks his red hot poker in Ed’s jacksie. The production looks like it will be very good with moments of excellent acting and effective directorial decisions from Francesca Petrizzo. It makes a change from Shakespeare anyway.

Three stars ***

Timothy Bano