r Monkey scampered into Manchester for the press night of the Christopher Marlowe's Edward II
at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
Outside, he noticed that there was more than one design of poster for the play, and that the posters had obviously been inspired by the recently revived Keep Calm and Carry On
poster; because no-one in Edward II
keeps calm for very long, the theatre has used quotes from the play. The posters have a mid-20th century appearance because the production is set in the 1950s.
Inside Mr Monkey found two more poster designs, then scurried up into the Mezzanine Gallery to see Northerners
before he picked up his humans' tickets.
He also found that the Theatre had installed a jazz club, the Cafe de Mars, based on a real jazz dive in Paris noted for its gay-friendliness and ethic mix. Mr Monkey's humans drank Cosmopolitans while four members of the cast played live jazz and the rest danced in a 1950's French style. The drinks and the music were excellent, though later research revealed that, unfortunately, the barman at the Cafe de Mars can't sell drinks on Fridays.
Christopher Marlowe's play condenses the reign of Edward II and the minority of Edward III - some 23 years - into 2 hours 20 minutes (including an interval). Marlowe seems to have simply ignored anything happening between 1307 and 1330 that didn't involve Edward II or one of his favourites plotting, being plotted against, being exiled, being recalled from exile, or murdered.
The set is a simple square with a series of low steps running diagonally across it. With minor additions, this functions surprisingly well as a French cafe, the English court, Westminster Abbey, the French court and just about anywhere else. Throughout, the character's relative positions on the steps indicated their power.
Fashions from the 1950s are used to great effect. Gaveston, Spencer and their hangers-on wear new, hepcat fashions designed to annoy the establishment. Edward II wears ceremonial full dress or a lounge suit, both symbolic of his ineffectiveness and vanity. The nobles wear business suits and aggressive trilbys; when Edward II belatedly gets round to fighting, he too has a suit and trilby.
There's quite a lot of violence, and it's as realistic and brutal as can be fitted onto a compact stage. Edward's end is particularly gruesome - red hot poker and everything - and there's something disturbingly medieval about a play that ends with a child holding a severed head.
Chris New is very good as Edward II; it's inevitable that everything seems to be his fault (largely because it was), but his end is truly appalling. As with the same team's earlier production of Dr Faustus
, Mr Monkey found himself feeling sorry for a character who had been an idiot for most of the play. The production plays up the sexual nature of his relationship with Piers Gaveston (Samuel Collings), Gaveston appearing as an arrogant and imaginative rent boy.
The nobles who spend the play complaining that Edward isn't ruling like a proper king should rule are effective en masse, but are hard to distinguish from one another. The exception, of course, is Mortimer; Jolyon Coy plays him strikingly with a repressed stiff upper lift even as he starts an affair with Edward's discarded queen Isabella.
Isabella herself, played by Emma Cunniffe, is striking (this might be because she's the only woman who actually speaks) and reminded Mr Monkey of Eva Peron.
Mr Monkey found Lightborn (Samuel Collins), the fastidious and delicately sinister assassin who daintily adjusts his tie after holding a man face down in a sewer, a strangely impressive presence.
While he wasn't totally sure about the connection between politics in the 1320s and the 1950s, Mr Monkey enjoyed this production of Edward II
immensely, though it was very unlike the home life of our own dear Queen (as far as he knows).