The marketing photos for Edward II – in their depiction of a graffitied squiggly-moustache on the King, and a bold ED2 – clearly demonstrate that this production at the Oxford Playhouse is set to have an overtly modern-twist. It is not unusual for plays to be put into a modern setting, but I believe this production of Edward II is one which is bold enough to still stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Part of this is down to the bizarre flash of inspiration which struck Director Charlotte Vickers. In perhaps one of the most Oxford ways possible, inspiration came while sitting in the library revising for a collection. In a way which seems outlandish and fitting it was the melding of Vickers’ study music, David Bowie, and subject, Edward II, which influenced this production. Yet, this concept of Bowie and Marlowe goes together in a way which is simultaneously surprising and not. It is true that Marlowe’s play precedes Bowie by about four-hundred years but their similarity in their controversial nature, and queerness is one which makes their coming-together fit exceptionally well. This production of Edward II is not influenced purely by Bowie, but the entirety of the 1980s, a setting that allows for both the queerness of the era and its Cold-War tensions to be fully-utilised. They are both very fitting in a play abundant in behind-the-scenes back-stabbing tensions generated by the homosexual relationship between Edward and Gaveston.
Yet, this concept of Bowie and Marlowe goes together in a way which is simultaneously surprising and not.
However, it is not just the bizarrely-apt concept of this production which will elevate it to excellence. I only saw a few scenes from the play in this preview, but it was clear that the acting talent is one which will make this production surely brilliant. Calam Lynch, in the role of Edward II, is a massively powerful actor, and manages to be both domineering and completely demanding of an audience’s attention while also impressively retaining a sense of sensitivity and emotional vulnerability. Yet, while there is no doubt as to Lynch’s exceptional talent, individual actors cannot hold up a production by themselves. Fortunately, there seems to be a wide array of acting talent in this production: Rosa Garland’s portrayal of Isabella is emotionally resonant and finely balances the need for the dramatic with veracity.
However, in a play which focuses on a relationship, and one which is very open in this production, there is potential for concern. While both Calam Lynch and Sam Liu are individually good actors, they seem at a stark opposition when placed together. This juxtaposition may be very much deliberate, but could also be the production’s downfall. As a couple, they seem to jar, and while certainly capable of going through the motions of apparent romance I doubt the believability of their performance together.
Yet, I only got a mere glimpse in the preview of this play, and the performance of such emotionally-tense scenes separated from the rest of the play may have caused this effect of a lack of realism. Overall, I have no real doubt that this production will pull off their ambitious concepts, and fantastically.