The second in a double bill with Scena Mundi’s production of Richard II, Edward II, by Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe, is by contrast the story of a much darker regal downfall. Where King Richard is foolish, Edward is blindly selfish, flaunting his relationship with Piers Gaveston and relentlessly challenging the order.
Cecilia Dorland’s production is also confusingly embroidered with 80s rock-inspired costumes. Sumptuous braids and velvet are replaced by studs and leather. Despite this, the events take place neither fully in the 80s nor in the play’s original setting – which the company’s Richard II adhered to so loyally. This perplexing treatment adds little to something that, on the whole, is well-acted and has no need for gimmicks.
Edward Fisher gives an assured performance as the ill-fated king, while Pip Brignall’s sharp-tongued, sauntering Gaveston is so smug that it is hard to find his demise anything less than satisfying. Brignall later returns as the king’s executioner, a tactic employed – along with the contrasting dress – by the National Theatre’s 2013 production.
The homosexual themes that are so prevalent throughout the play are brought to the fore in Dorland’s production. However, they do occasionally seem forced through Edward and Gaveston’s overt flamboyance.
Unlike Shakespeare’s Richard II, Marlowe’s text is free from embellishments, yet is comic in places, exposing the caricatures that underline how contradictory and fickle his characters are.
As events darken, so too does the light streaming in through St Bartholomew the Great’s impressive windows, providing an appropriately ominous atmosphere.