Greenwich Theatre – until 27 January. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Lazarus Theatre Company’s residency at Greenwich Theatre opens in style with a transfer of their insanely intense Edward II.
Edward I is dead, and as Edward II takes the throne, he calls his lover Gaveston back from the exile imposed by the dead king. Showering Gaveston with titles and riches usually reserved for those of nobler blood, Edward antagonises his court and shuns his wife, and the plotting against him begins. Sexual prejudices and political shenanigans – a thoroughly modern play written over 400 years ago. Christopher Marlowe’s glorious text is adapted skilfully by director Ricky Dukes into a tight 90 minutes of unrelenting tension.
Lazarus’ usual use of music and ensemble movement is muted here. The cast don’t leave the stage, but instead of lounging around the edges, they stand stock still, staring blankly at the action, showing the constant surveillance and judgement of Edward and Gaveston’s relationship, and producing an increasingly intimidating atmosphere.
Oseloka Obi’s Gaveston breaks the initial silence with his crowing reading of Edward’s letter calling him back to England, setting up the character as a mercenary, streetwise chancer, but his demeanour changes to coquettish joy at his reunion with Edward (Timothy Blore). As his titles accumulates, Gaveston’s encouragement of Edward’s impetuous and petulant behaviour and public flaunting of their relationship appear arrogant powerplays thanks to Obi’s swaggering performance, but there is still room for some tender moments as the two men hold eye content across the stage as the nobility plot their downfall. Timothy Blore gives Edward, in his ill-fitting crown (both physically and metaphorically), a brilliantly frustrating teenage stroppiness that explodes into regal fury as the court turns against him. This Edward is objectionable and pitiful in equal measure, but Blore keeps the audience’s sympathy throughout with his man-child take on the king.
Alicia Charles as the wronged and vengeful Isabella is full of fire and fury, while Jamie O’Neill’s brings a rabid intensity to the ambitious and self-serving Mortimer. Alex Zur, Stephen Smith, John Slade, Stephen Emery and David Clayton give strong performances as the nobles surrounding Edward.
Transferring to a larger theatre means that the claustrophobia of last year’s production is lost, and director Ricky Dukes has wisely injected more humour in this more open space. O’Neil’s weary and sarcastic glances are more obvious as Mortimer despairs of the fools around him, and the scene where Isabella confronts Edward and Gaveston has shades of the Benny Hill Show as she follows them doggedly around the table.
The stark design and modern dress emphasises the nobles view of the kingdom as a business, with land and titles being their bonuses and profits. Unfortunately, the lighting design didn’t hit the mark for me – the strip lighting was effective, but when the cast moved closer to the audience, they were not well lit. This may well be intentional, but I’d have liked to see the talented cast clearly.
The final scenes, with the cast, in those masks, stripped to their underwear, with plastic aprons and plastic sheeting being laid down in anticipation of the bloodbath to come may not please Marlowe purists, but they are horribly effective and satisfying, taking the play full circle to its opening scene, with dire consequences for the plotters.
Lazarus’ Edward II is stylish and shocking, full of dynamic performances and visual flair. Get down to Greenwich and grab a ticket while you can.