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Marlowe's Edward II at Manchester Royal Exchange

Published by: Caroline May on 13th Sep 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May

After the death of his overbearing father, Edward, Prince of Wales ascends the English throne, intending to be a very different kind of king.  But his obsessive love for a commoner upsets the status quo and eventually leads to the loss of his crown. 

Tales of the Royal Family’s doomed passions seem to be flavour of the month, with Madonna’s cinematic take on Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson premiering at the Venice Film Festival, and now Marlowe’s Edward II opening at Manchester Royal Exchange.  Although both works feature flamboyant, spendthrift monarchs who don’t mind flying in the face of public opinion, the main difference between the two versions is that Edward II’s paramour is a man. 

The film received a critical drubbing, but I can’t believe it is as turgid as the play.  Anyone who thinks Shakespeare and Marlowe are the same person needs to have a serious word with themselves. 

Director Toby Frow threw every conceivable theatrical device at his production of Dr Faustus last autumn, but his decision to go for post-war austerity this time merely results in an off-stage jazz band, wine bottles with candles stuck in their necks, and a handful of leather jackets: hardly indicative of a court revelling in vice, luxury and unbridled sensuality.  Chris New was witty, cynical and satirical as Joe Orton in the stage version of Prick Up Your Ears, but seems less enthusiastic about Edward’s moral turpitude.

What Edward II requires is some daring choices, as Marlowe’s colourless characters are mainly mouthpieces delivering exposition.  Certainly a fine troupe of actors play the clique of peers credibly, and the crowd scenes have a real feeling of the Establishment en masse, but as individuals there is nothing to distinguish one from another.

Only Samuel Collings’ creepy Lightborn – neat and almost camp in his linen suit and panama hat, yet as cold and controlled as the assassin he is – injects any emotion into the play, and by then it’s all over.

Edward II is on until Saturday 8 October 2011
Prices £9-£33
Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm
Matinees: Wed @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm
Box Office: 0161 833 9833



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