By Michael Spring
Ricky Dukes directs Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II at the Tristan Bates theatre this week. Even the preview performance is memorable, for lots of reasons. Sharp direction, stylish production, good performances all help to bring this play to spectacular life.
Christopher Marlowe was always Sid Vicious to Shakespeare’s Johnny Rotten; his writing a bit more impetuous, less considered, and in the end of course, not a survivor. But like Shakespeare, he didn’t shy away from a big theme and nothing was much bigger to the renaissance mind than a king who ignores the fact that his kingdom is going to a figurative hell in a handcart.
So the play is magnetic, and so too is this production. Young and important men strut and bristle at injustice. Piers Gaveston fawns, almost exuding oil. The Queen glides magnificently, not giving up on her husband’s cause until it is patently lost, but then tragically becoming the catalyst to disaster. And the King? Well, the King tries to ignore everything but his rights, and his pretty bauble, the crown, the most important prop of all. After all, when you are anointed by God as the leader of your people, what can’t you do?
There are many good performances here, but this is an ensemble production, stylishly staged in a closely confined arena that nevertheless manages to be transformed – as necessary – into battlefield and court, killing field and ghastly dungeon. Lights and a few significant props are all that are needed to thrust us memorably into the heart of the action. A king in a gold suit and glittering crown, killers in masks, an archbishop whose immediate boss – the Pope – may intervene, even if God stays resolutely aloft, perhaps planning the final irony.
This is all a very watchable, very involving 90 minutes in which, tellingly, none of the very committed and talented cast leave the stage. It’s going to be a tough week for those involved, and a rewarding week for those who come to see the play.
Edward II is at Tristan Bates 23-26 August at 7.30pm. For more details and tickets visit camdenfringe.com.