It may be that the emotions from seeing such an intense piece of drama are still fresh, but as I write this I cannot honestly say that I have ever seen such a formidable student production.
The first thing that I would mention about this production is that the attention to detail was breathtaking. You notice something, like how Isabella has changed her hair after leaving Edward, and you nod appreciatively. Then, you notice that the light-screen forming the backdrop for the play, which was red while violence was onstage is slowly blending into blue while a child pleads for his aunt’s wife, and you are seriously blown away. It seemed to me that every single move, sound, light and stitch had its place within the show and had been considered before being placed there. Nothing felt incidental or arbitrary, which is to be expected from a production which was 9 months in the making.
The set comprised of a huge, brutalist throne, reflecting the 1980s setting, behind which was a screen which changed colour from scene to scene. The only other way they show scene change is through sound and ambience. While these methods are simple and minimalist, they were effective in supporting the drama which took place before them, giving us an understanding of the actors’ positions without over-powering their messages.
The costumes seemed to follow the 1980s style. Particularly well-presented was Rosa Garland, in the role of Isabella. Dressed in red and stiletto shoes, she conveyed an image of being both graceful and sexually repressed, as her desire for her cold husband was continually unfounded. The peers all wore coats with fur-lining, a simple and efficient way of showing that they were all part of an alliance. One image which remains in my mind is of Isabella confiding in Mortimer about repealing Gaveston, while the peers were visible upstage, lit up in a surreal and eerie way.
And now, the acting. The intimacy between Gaveston (Sam Liu) and Edward II (Calam Lynch) was believable and touching. Lynch’s characterisation of Edward was also powerful as we were able to pity him, and yet also revile him as pathetic and weak. In general, there was not a weak link among the cast, and if there was, it would only be because the standard was so high. The most captivating scene for me was when Edward had been captured by his enemies, was in the dungeons being tortured, and yet still all he could think about was Gaveston. The creative use of stage, levels and general physicality contributed to this and it felt genuinely emotional. Another moment which I found chilling was the final scene, when Prince Edward (Julia Pilkington) had just sent his own mother to her death. Her dealing with the child’s emotions, the pain but also betrayal was incredibly believable.
The only part which disappointed me was the actual murder scene. I felt that more could have been made of it, and that the full potential of its goriness was not explored. However, Edward II was all in all a masterpiece, and something one could easily picture on a National Theatre stage.
Huge congratulations to the cast and crew, and I would recommend that everyone snap up any remaining tickets there may be.