Duties and Lies: Review of Sport for Jove’s Edward II
Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (1592) is one of the earliest examples of a historical drama indicative of the style that Shakespeare would later make famous. Sport for Jove has taken this play, originally set during the fourteenth century and brought it to a time reminiscent of the late 1920/30s.
Edward II chronicles the reign and tragic fall of King Edward II of England. Upon taking the throne, Edward orders the return of the formerly exiled Gaveston. Although the original text left the manner of their relationship veiled, today most productions choose to highlight its supposed homosexual nature; director, Terry Karabelas has kept with this tradition. Gaveston is disliked by Edward’s parliament of lords and barons, and Queen Isabella is jealous of the affections she has been robbed of. They see Gaveston as distracting the King; they claim he has been liberal with the nation’s treasury and as a result war has broken out. Although during the fourteenth century the Church fiercely condemned homosexuality, this doesn’t appear to be the source of the lord’s antagonism towards Gaveston. Rather, it is his influence over the King’s personal life. Indeed, Marlowe complicates the theme, for while it may be possible to see the play as portraying the destruction of those who transgress moral order, compared to his conniving councilors who plot to remove Gaveston once and for all, Edward appears as the innocent party.
Edward II actually becomes an interesting exploration of the conflict between the desire to follow one’s heart and the duties that one owes to the nation. Throughout the play Edward is tormented by this. The tragedy comes from Edward’s mistaken belief that the power he holds as king will allow him the free reign to follow his heart, even against the will of his council. He comes to learn though, as indeed do those who plotted to overthrow him, that a person is only able to hold power as long as others choose to recognize that power. In the light of recent political upheaval it is a lesson we should all do well to remember. Bob Carr was at opening night; maybe Tony Abbott should come along, Mortimer’s final words as he is led to execution may provide him with some balm:
‘Base Fortune, now I see, that in thy wheel there is a point, to which when men aspire, they tumble headlong down: that point I touch’d, and, seeing there was no place to mount up higher, why shall I grieve at my declining fall?’
Interestingly, by placing the play in the early twentieth century, some parallel is drawn between Edward II and his distant relative Edward VIII. Both men were faced with the question of holding onto their kingdom or following their heart. Both chose their heart and lost a kingdom, but with very different results.
As is always the case with Sport for Jove, performances are strong. Julian Garner is a perfect fit for many of Shakespeare’s roles and other leading men of the age. His Edward II is therefore no exception. Garner possesses a royal quality, one which makes him appear effortlessly virtuous yet deeply flawed at the same time. This Edward wants nothing more than to love as he pleases; the conflict that follows is mapped beautifully by Garner – we feel his anguish though we question his methods. Acting alongside Garner is Georgia Adamson as Isabella, his French Queen, cast aside to make way for Gaveston. Adamson has always been an impressive performer, so to call Isabella a victim would be to offend the character and the actress; there is much more going on. Marlowe gives us vengeful and opportunistic; Adamson responds with a side of ambition and femme fatal. She and Garner are both performers who possess a great presence, individually and together. The same could be said of James Lugton as Mortimer, Edward’s fierce enemy. Lugton is a quiet professional. His performances are always subtle yet incredibly diverse. Here, the ‘bad guy’ suddenly becomes layered and vulnerable. Angela Bauer was also impressive as the Princess of Kent, the conflicted sister of Edward. A towering familial presence with every appearance, Bauer was raw, tender and loyal (mostly).
Now, Michael Whalley plays Gaveston, the ‘friend’ (read lover) of Edward II. Gaveston is an interesting character – he is somewhat of a mystery; we don’t always know what Edward sees in him. He seems bitter and defensive, hypersexual and boyish at times. As such, it is a difficult character to pull off, but Whalley canvases Gaveston perfectly. He is the boyfriend you really don’t want your daughter (or in this case, your son) to be dating, though they just can’t stay away. Of the supporting cast, Gabriel Fancourt was excellent as Prince Edward – the increasingly hardened nature with which the young Prince views the world was unnerving to behold. Barry French was dogmatic as the Bishop of Canterbury, lacing his performance with a tinge of cowardice. Belinda Hoare was aggressively resolute as Warwick whilst Richard Hilliar was stout as Lancaster. Edmund Lembke-Hogan presented a sharp Spencer, one of Edward’s loyal followers and Simon London (as Baldock, another loyal follower) was once again incredibly watchable – there is a soft quality about London that makes him so.
Sport for Jove has produced a powerful portrayal of a tormented and ultimately doomed king. Edward II is playing until the 17th of October. For more information see: http://www.sportforjove.com.au/theatre-play/edward-ii