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.