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FringeReview UK 2019

Low Down

Marlowe’s Edward II directed by Nick Bagnall features Bill Barclay’s score directed by Rob Millet moving from modern evocation on clarinets like shawns, lute music plucked close to My Lady Carey’s Dompe. Jessica Worrall’s set features a magnificent floor and few props, candles in Cleo Maynard’s display of pomp. Anna Josephs’ unfussy costumes gesture neatly to the period. Kevin McCurdy’s fight direction makes much of Gaveston too. Wayne Parsons’ movement ensures fluidity of ten actors at the same time.


Days after Globe Education mounted Peele’s Edward I in a one-off Read Not Dead, Marlowe’s Edward II directed by Nick Bagnall opens like a Renaissance Evita, blazing with cardinals and candles in Cleo Maynard’s display of pomp downwards through conspiratorial torches.


Edward Longshanks is dead. So instead of that headlong lurch into his son Edward’s ‘come Gaveston’ we’re treated to a living semiotic display of majesty. This is what the realm wants. It’s the last time they’re going to get it in the telescope of twenty years Marlowe paces us through. The choice of private love isn’t the issue; it’s the almost wilful destruction of a realm where Edward’s happy with ‘lakes of gore’ and to ‘make England’s civil towns huge heaps of stones’, or swap his ‘crown’s revenue to bring {Gaveston} back.’


Bagnall’s cast ensure a nation’s telescoped too, through a play whose only punctuation is a change of lovers after Act III (Gaveston died in 1312, only five years into his lover’s misrule; we give Marlowe scant credit for his dramaturgy). Richard Bremmer and Colin Ryan as Spensers Senior and Junior bring truculent Brummy – they’re Marcher lords, that’s close enough – against Annette Badland’s morphing through the tolerant tang of Mortimer Senior, Arundel or Abbott, through Jonathan Livingstone’s court-bred Mortimer Junior. Then there’s Katie West’s French Isabella, here given her own pause.


West suggests foreignness through sounding like a girl from the north country, with a foreign nasality that isolates her. West’s pause and agonising in any case pulls focus brilliantly from Edward’s vortex. She sits mute through that first ceremony of sad innocence. And despite her hesitant then painful shift to comfort and love, she’s isolated by new tyranny at the end. Each iteration, each attempt to return to Edward is rebuffed or eddied in bartering, soon to be dashed. Marlowe’s gradations never let you lose sympathy for Isabella; you feel her end is harsh.


With Edward Marlowe only allows a flaming rhetoric to stand in for it on occasion, the sheer extravagance of disaster against private love evoking awe and anger. Tom Stuart’s attractive Edward projects a boyish brio where he can pit a youthful glow against east condemnation. He manages the shift between heactoring and humiliated whisper with a fined-down aplomb.


Beru Tessema’s Gaveston (and later, traditionally his fiendish murderer Lightborn) seems Mephistopheles incarnate, save that he’s sincere too. Swooping and passionate, immensely agile and an able sword-fighter, he’s a mercurial embodiment of an Ariel grown up and sexualised. His fright and dignity’s captivating, and he speaks beautifully – like Badland, Bremmer and Richard Cant who takes on the chilly politic of Lancaster and Leicester.


Kevin McCurdy’s fight direction makes much of Gaveston too, in his final stand-off with barons, with Wayne Parsons’ movement ensuring fluidity of ten actors often present at the same time.


Edward’s brother Edmund, earl of Kent is one of those tragic figures we forget, and like Isabella and agonized one: changing sides twice a sibling loyalty gives place to despair but whose plotted murder he can’t brook. Polly Frame captures a different mode fo speaking: urgent, conflicted, always protesting on the rack. Frame’s loud cries being dragged off at the last mark the only surprise point: Frame’s maanged a terrible dignity throughout. Sanchia McCormack’s consciously rough Earl of Warwick is nicely hewed (she hews Gaveston), as is her seraphic succour of Sir John of Hainault, aiding the conspirators in France.


It’s Badland’s Mortimer Senior who clear demarks the permission that could have saved so much trouble; that Edward might have had it all, in moderation. ‘Kings will have their minions’ he tells his son, and catalogues Marlowe’s historical favourites. It’s what Edward does with the realm that counts, and all the heroic parallels only confirm Edward’s not at all one of the great out-and-proud commanders. It’s not his love that destroys Edward and his favourites; it’s his refusal to even like anyone or anything else.


The production’s full of the house’s best ceremonial chorics in Bill Barclay’s score moving from Klezmer-like evocation on clarinets like shawns, or lute pluckings close to My Lady Carey’s Dompe (written on the harpsichord for the other Boleyn girl). It’s a powerful fusion directed by Rob Millet. Jessica Worrall’s set features a magnificently detailed floor and few props. Sinister cowled monks feature again and Anna Josephs’ unfussy costumes gesture neatly to the period whilst ensuring only the Archbishop’s voluminous. Nothing other than the pause of ceremony obstructs the hurtling career of hedonism over head. And with Bagnall’s neat edits we feel even more clearly Shakespeare’s borrowings for Richard II, featured next this season just after the Almeida’s version. That tug-of-self-love in surrendering the crown, for instance.


The end like the opening suddenly slows. Cistern-soundings engulf the theatre as Edward is tenebrously impaled with a frighteningly orange-hot implement, and howls naked into death like a hideous birth into legend. A ceremonial in reverse ushers a new coronation and more bloody struggles. And we’re back where we started


Though voice production’s a little variable in a fine cast, it’s mostly very strong. After some strange Edward IIs its good to see how Bagnall convinces us that Marlowe’s play is his best drama, that the pathos of those who lose – king, queen and their favourites, nearly everyone – can only be resolved through renewed tyranny. Ryan’s other role as Edward III grows as he learns, mewing up his surviving parent in the Tower. It’s a flinty lesson, not to be missed. Do see it.