Edward II

Wed 6th – Sat 9th June 2012

reviews

Thomas Stell

at 01:23 on 7th Jun 2012

5agrees

7disagrees

Marlowe’s chronicle of this English king’s life is brought to the stage unimaginatively and quite unsuccessfully by the Corpus Christi Owlets. Unremittingly dreadful, it deserves no praise at all, and its actors, for fear of more productions of its kind, no encouragement.

Presenting us with a string of episodes not arranged into acts the playwright shows us Edward’s love for his male companion Gaveston, the commoner, the nobles’ disgust at this and subsequent revolt, and the king’s assassination. In this, his last work, Marlowe abandoned the great mythical figures of Faustus and Tamburlaine and gave us his most psychologically realistic and detailed characters. It is this realism that has accounted for the play’s popularity, though I and many others much prefer the earlier ones, with their extraordinary spectacle and heroic casts. Certainly there is little evidence of the master poet behind the magician’s or the conqueror’s brilliant speeches here.

With this in view the play was perhaps a strange choice, though the script cannot be blamed for this production’s faults. All the typical oddities of bad Elizabethan student drama are here: soldiers and warlike earls played by the most sweetly feminine of Oxford’s actresses (witness Lizhi Howard), the uniform of cheap evening shirts and black trousers, a sad looking throne at the back of the stage – you can imagine the rest. In fact the design really deserves its own special paragraph of condemnation; Edward himself (Alexander Stutt) wore a crown less plasticky versions of which hundreds of Caspars, Melchiors and Balthasars have worn in their respective Sunday School Nativity Plays all over the country.

This is, moreover, the fourth production in which I have been unfortunate enough to see Stutt act. His bizarre and eccentric mannerisms, his unnecessary physical tension and contorted expressions are traits he brings to every role in which he is cast, regardless of their suitability. With his excessive energy, he occupies the throne like nothing so much as some kind of over-stimulated ape. The rest of the cast are no better, though some are not as remarkably awful (witness Phoebe Hames as Isabella).

When we come to one of the play’s most notable themes, again the production fails us. Homosexuality is conveyed indelicately and boringly through Stutt’s eye shadow, and through Josh Booth’s tight trousers, ear piercing, “tank top” vest and camp voice for Gaveston. Now this is not the worst student piece I have ever seen, but in all my time growing up in Oxford and going to the theatre here it has been one of the dullest. It’s not even amusingly bad.

agree
disagree

Alexandra Shaw

at 10:00 on 7th Jun 2012

7agrees

2disagrees

A sinister atmosphere hung over the stage. The disparity and unease between the members of the court was easily recognisable, and set the play up for the unrelenting and emotional tearing of the kingdom.

Immediately through some clever characterisation it was clear with the style of ‘Edward II’ we were dealing with. His slouched posture and bare feet contrasted immediately with the Earl’s rigidity and conformity, and their tightly laced black shoes. The bare feet gave the King a feel of unhinged-ness from the beginning, but it was later when his insanity, and Stutt’s portrayal of it, really shone. At times I almost wanted to laugh, such was the absurdity of his reactions, but Stutt managed to steer the temptation away through sheer convincing creepiness; I almost felt to laugh at him would place my own neck on the chopping block. When he laid his hands on a sword and proceeded to wield it around his head like a mace, I almost ducked for fear he’d let go in his enthusiasm.

Yet Stutt was not the only performer worthy of praise. With such a strong lead, it would be easy for the scenes not featuring the crazed homoerotic figure to quickly become boring; but I am happy to say this was not the case. The trio of Moritz Borrmann, Tom Heaps and Tim Forshaw were a convincing and cohesive group, so much so that I could easily imagine them talking over the problem of Gaveston in a pub long into the night. Heaps came across particularly well as a seasoned, collected, believable ruler; I’m almost surprised he doesn’t have his own Earldom. At times they did appear to have a slight stiffness about them, but at others, such as when attempting to persuade the King, this stiffness came across well as obstinate defiance. But they were not only memorable as a trio, as it was obvious that each was acting for his own safety. Borrmann, I feel, came into his own especially in the second half, perhaps being more suited to the Queen’s right-hand man than desperate conspirator, as in the latter case he occasionally spoke slightly too fast and furiously. But these are slight quibbles, and as a whole he gave a convincing performance.

But perhaps what was one of the most memorable features of this play was the actors’ abilities as a whole to rapidly and convincingly switch characters. Josh Booth showed he could act as Gaveston, but it was as Lightborn where I felt a real connection. Emily Warren, who played Matrevis, was able to show a starting range as her character slowly gained more power, and eventually the upper hand.

The most captivating performance, I felt, was that of Phoebe Hames’ Isabella. The role of a Queen whose King runs off with another lover provides one of the largest opportunities for showcasing a broad range of emotions, and Hames captured them all; anger, grief, and hope, followed eventually by a scheming love for another. Her relationship with the king was completely believable, wrath, resentment, but ultimately reliant.

My congratulations go out to Francesca Petrizzo, who, although blessed with brilliant actors, herself achieved brilliance in her directing. The use of props was minimal, but effective; the use of swords allowed for some tense fight scenes, and the large throne, ever-present on stage, was a constant reminder of the battle being fought over the Kingdom. The strained relationships between all the characters were apparent and convincing, and made for an entertaining evening at Corpus Christi Auditorium. Fill up the seats, I think this show deserves it.

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