Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 1 – 17, 2015
Playwright: Christopher Marlowe
Director: Terry Karabelas
Cast: Angela Bauer, Barry French, Belinda Hoare, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Gabriel Fancourt, Georgia Adamson, James Lugton, Julian Garner, Michael Whalley, Richard Hilliar, Simon London
Image by Marnya Rothe
Christopher Marlowe’s 1593 tragedy Edward II charts the downfall of a king in a political system controlled vigorously by the church. In the play, Edward’s controversial relationship with one of his minions Gaveston, provides a motive for the barons and Queen Isabella to depose of Edward in favour of his son. In addition to the unorthodox love in question, the king is also portrayed to be an ineffectual leader with few redeeming qualities. The other personalities in the script who plot his demise are similarly repugnant, resulting in a narrative that is emotionally distant in spite of its many scenes of passion. There is no one for us to side with, and we do not feel badly for anybody’s anguish.
Terry Karabelas’ direction emphasises the fleshly pleasures and pains of Edward II. The magnification of sexuality, along with graphic scenes of torture, give the show a refreshing contemporariness. The omnipresence of religion as an insidious force that instigates every objectionable act is a another subversive interpretation that attempts to bring paradigms closer to today’s standards but ultimately, little poignancy is to be found in the production.
Although performances are uniformly polished and energetic, characters rarely communicate beyond the surface. Personalities are insufficiently compelling, and the story turns simplistic. Leading man Julian Garner has a dark and alluring presence, with an intensity that holds our attention, but there is little for the actor to work with. Characters lack complexity and the cast struggles to elevate the play from its predictability. More noteworthy is lighting design by Ross Graham whose excellent work helps to manufacture a sense of theatricality, and atones with emotional dimensions lacking in the text.
Betrayals, mutinies and dethronements are themes more than familiar to any Australian, therefore dealing with those subjects require a level of insight beyond the pedestrian. The changing of prime ministers and governments lead the news on a daily basis, and in spite of its many murders, what Edward II presents is strangely placid. It is unfortunate that the knifing of leaders is now commonplace, but the drama that accompanies those stories should never turn mundane.