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A CurtainUp London Review
The first production of the new company Eyestrings reveals that this collective of young, talented theatre practitioners is one to watch out for. With a streamlined text, this unpretentiously innovative production of Marlowe's political play is full of dark energy and emotive urgency.
Similar to Shakespeare's Richard II, this play explores the fall of a foolish, rightful king due to the machinations of outraged, power-mongering peers. Eyestrings have placed it in the musty, dank crypt of St Andrew's Church in Holborn. Full of atmosphere, it plunges the audience into the sense of a dark netherworld even before the Marlovian political intrigues and power struggles begin. The traverse stage with a single line of seats either side seems at times intimate and at others palatial or grand. The corridor-shaped stage might seem an awkward, unwieldy space but here works very well due to clever direction and a certain thematic synergy. With a realm and court divided by rival factions, the audience often has to make a personal choice of which end to watch — echoing the play's essentially split nature.
Director Owen Horsley's skilful adaptation reduces the play to just ninety minutes, retaining everything important but enjoying a structural tightness and less sprawling tragedy; so, for example, the king's second favourite Spencer is entirely excised. Horsley's background is with Cheek by Jowl and this production has many of the hallmarks which make them so great a company: clarity, simplicity and an interpretation which goes straight to the core of the play. Also, the scenes are fluid, overlapping at key significant points and adding an overall sinuousness. For example, Edward II is carried off screaming to his death whilst his son, the new king, seamlessly faces cheering crowds. Sound and light are impressionistically integrated, often leaked into the crypt from outside creating a sense of the play's larger context.
The cast have an astonishing amount of talent concentrated in so young a company and create a finely-balanced sympathy between king and rebels. The peers, headed by David Caves' Mortimer with menacing oiliness and violent temper, circle and prowl, striding around in a formation of three. They are played as angry, political creatures with an edge of slime. Owen Young's Edward II encapsulates all the loneliness and pettishness of this king, prepared to sacrifice everything for an all-consuming passion. His queen Isabella, sympathetically played by Kelly Hotten, convincingly progresses from chagrin as an outcast wife to self-destructive collusion with Mortimer. And finally, Oliver Gomm's tremblingly innocent Prince Edward provides the only chink of hope in this bleakly selfish society.
In spite of the text's cruelty and austerely inhumane vision, this is a compelling, involving production, focussing on the play's shadowy force with earnestness and dynamism. Far from a dryly historical piece, this version of a classic play has muscular elegance and exposes its timeless relevance.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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