Edward II Plays Dirty At The National Theatre

Vanessa Kirby as Queen Isabella, John Heffernan as Edward II, Kyle Soller as Gaveston. Photo: ©Alastair Muir

Vanessa Kirby as Queen Isabella, John Heffernan as Edward II, Kyle Soller as Gaveston. Photo: ©Alastair Muir

Edward II at the National Theatre is a commendable piece of modern theatre making. Multi-dimensional, slick, and eschewing ‘suggestivity’ in favour of full-scale erotica, it is a delight to watch.

A fantastic portrayal of lust, greed and good old-fashion betrayal, what really sets this production of Christopher Marlowe’s play apart is the way in which you view it. Two giant screens flank the enormous stage and the play’s most intense moments, as well as being acted out on stage, are captured close-up by hand held cameras and projected onto them. It sounds as if it could be distracting, but it just isn’t. Credit to director Joe Hill-Gibbins for that.

As an audience member you view any performance from the confines of your seat, wherever in the theatre that may be. But Edward II gives every single member of the audience a close-up view of the action. It is slightly Blair Witch Project, but it works. It also gives us an insight into some pretty spectacular acting.

John Heffernan as King Edward II is undoubtedly the star. His transformation from frustratingly manipulatable King to a wholeheartedly broken man is so believable, and his pain-stricken face in close-up as he walks across the stage to his impending doom is a truly emotive moment. Kyle Soller is also excellent as the antagonistic yet charismatic Gaveston, and Vanessa Kirby cuts a successfully shallow figure as the duplicitous Queen Isabella.

Why exactly Prince Edward, played by Bettrys Jones, is dressed as a cross of Just William and Pippi Longstocking is never made clear. Yet this character, who only seemed to incite smirks throughout the play due to his ridiculous attire, comes out of nowhere to finish on a stonkingly brilliant soliloquy.

Theatre purists may find Edward II too ambitious, but for anyone who is open to a refreshing, daring and unique take on a classic, definitely give it a go. Long live the King! Or not.

Edward II is at the National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX until 26 October. Tickets are £12, £24, £34. Book online or call the box office on 020 7452 3000. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary review ticket. 

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  • Tom Bolton

    I really enjoyed Bettrys Jones as young Edward. She’s one of my favourite actors, but it wasn’t just that. Usually you have to watch a child actor who, try as they might, aren’t good enough alongside adult pros. Watching an adult pro sending up the convention was funny, but her performance had real punch. And it fitted with having women play some of the peers too. Bettrys was great!

    • Ruth Hargreaves

      Absolutely, I thought as soon as she had the space to act she was fantastic – the ending in particular blew me away. But I still don’t understand the outfit choice!

  • reinadeoz

    The NT could scarcely have staged a more yoof-courting/blue-rinse-brigade-baiting season opener than this if it had gone the whole hog and kicked September off with a One Direction concert.

    Okay, that’s not quite fair: Joe Hill-Gibbins’s hyper-stylised take on Marlowe’s 1592 tragedy would clearly scare the crap out of your average

    tween. Nonetheless, Hill-Gibbins has very definitely brought the spirit of the Young Vic – the hip theatre where he works as deputy artistic director – over for a far from straight reading.

  • Rory BM

    Going to see this on a college trip next Wednesday, really looking forward to it now!