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03 September 2013


Edward II
National Theatre
Olivier Theatre, London
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
The National are celebrated for allowing space for experimental productions, unusual concepts and dramatic freedom, and Joe Hill-Gibbins production of Christopher Marlowe's controversial 16th century play fits that brief explicitly.  The text; which extensively explores the homosexuality of King Edward II of England and the unswerving rejection of his relationship with favourite Gaveston by his kin and advisers which ultimately results in his horrific murder; is not controversial enough for this production however, and is entirely overshadowed by the hyper-modern approach to the staging.
An open stage welcomes the audience who watch cast and crew wandering around pre-show, vacuuming the stage, changing costume, then as the play begins bursting into "God Save the King", a tune around 150 years too modern for this King.  The anachronisms are rife and the source of some humour through Act 1, with characters puffing on cigarettes lit by lighters and chatting on telephones.  The costume too is of varying origin, with Gaveston in vest, skinny jeans and a leather jacket, the young prince in a school blazer, but the King himself in a regal robe of gold, neither of period nor modern.  The choice to close off one of the acting spaces and portray the action through live video feeds became distracting, with sometime different images on each screen and occasionally overlayed with action on the visible stage too. 
Performances are all consumed by the staging here, with little room left for the actors to truly explore their characters.  Kyle Soller's American Gaveston is commanding and strong, exuding masculinity and arrogance, assured in his love for the King.  Edward himself is given a worthy study by John Heffernan who portrays the fickle and conflicting nature of the King's desires with clarity and handles the difficult death scene with grace.  Vanessa Kirby is standout as the wronged turncoat Queen in a provocative performance. 
The enthusiasm of the direction here is admirable, but the result is too much style over substance and the plot gets almost entirely lost in the frenzy of the staging. 

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