Lazarus Theatre kick off their year-long residency at Greenwich Theatre on a visceral note with Christopher Marlowe’s homoerotic epic Edward II.
This is lean-forward-in-your-seat sort of stuff as Kit Marlowe’s poetic verse is delivered with purpose by a highly talented cast.
Having previously staged the show at Tristian Bates to some criticism that the space was too small, Director Ricky Dukes here gets the opportunity to show off the full physicality of his production on the expansive main stage whilst still retaining the claustrophobic feeling of a 1970s bunker of the Cold War era.
Dukes’ highly stylised show puts the predominantly male cast in white-collar business attire as they pace bare-footed during the pre-set while the voice of God counts down the arrival of Edward II (Timothy Blore). The first few minutes are underscored with a thunderous soundtrack but zero dialogue as the new King is crowned following the death of his father; the news delivered by a voiceless bright red analogue telephone. Edward is totally unprepared for the throne, yet seizes the opportunity to return his lover, Gaveston (Oseloka Obi), from exile. This is much to the chagrin of his court, not only because of their loyalty to Edward’s wife, Isabella (Alicia Charles), but because they view Gaveston as a peasant. Edward II is as much about class as it is homosexual themes.
There’s little doubt that the King is the sympathetic character here, persecuted by those that would seek an ideal, but stuck in their bunker they have no real idea about that green patch of land outside.
There is a notable change in pace in the latter part of the play as the Barons and Earls circle in on Edward, the drumbeat of the soundtrack intensifying and quickening. The cheap suits replaced with uniform black boxer briefs, transparent plastic aprons and Dadaistic face masks, and the vast stage is covered in polythene as they dispatch their King in a stark and bloody manner. It’s safe to take along your mother though, as the forewarned nudity is brief and not at all graphic.
The hour and a half of stage time is undeniably captivating. Save Isabella, no one leaves the desolate set. Scenes cascade into each other uninterrupted as the fluorescent lights flicker at the deliberately low ceiling height Dukes imposes. This is lean-forward-in-your-seat sort of stuff as Kit Marlowe’s poetic verse is delivered with purpose by a highly talented cast. Blore’s Edward enthusiastically cavorts around while obsessed with Gaveston, yet finds the moving tenderness of Marlowe’s soliloquy when tormented by his nobles to resign his ironically ill-fitting crown.
Purists should avoid as the contemporising may be too edgy, but for the rest of us enjoy the whirlwind of a Renaissance drama discharged with a fair old punch.