“Sad stories of the death of kings”: Richard II at the RSC and Edward II at the National Theatre

John Heffernan as Edward, Kyle Soller as Gaveston. Photo Johan Persson

John Heffernan as Edward, Kyle Soller as Gaveston. Photo Johan Persson

From announcement it seemed great timing that Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Richard II were going to be performed so close together, at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company respectively. The stories of two kings forced to abdicate the throne on the way to a violent death, the similarities between the plays make comparing and contrasting tempting. Even more so now that I have seen the productions and they are both in my “I am so in love I want to talk about them all the time” list. In other words, any excuse will do.

Spoiler warning and context: I normally try to avoid spoilers but this is a different kind of post, with plenty of spoilers for the plays and the two aforementioned productions. If you so wish, you can read my (mostly) non  spoilery reviews for Richard II and Edward II. Also I am not a scholar and my understanding of the text comes almost exclusively from performance. My observations relate to these particular productions as seen through my eyes.

Edward and Richard: One would be hard pressed to describe either as good rulers (at least at the time we meet them), but similarities stop there. Edward, as played by John Heffernan, is the rebel barefoot king, defined by his need to love and be loved. It makes him vulnerable, often weak, but opens the soul and makes it easy to be on his side. Richard is far more elusive. His divine right to rule is his default understanding of himself, but at the same time there is an ever present – if well hidden – hollowness to his conviction. It’s the trojan horse that opens the door to his salvation. Richard is not easy to like, and in David Tennant’s performance he never quite surrenders that last scrap of regal entitlement, but there is hope in a man who looks at his downfall in the same uncompromising way he reigned supreme. Continue reading

Review: Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, at the Olivier Stage, National Theatre

John Heffernan as Edward II - Photo Johan Persson

John Heffernan as Edward II – Photo Johan Persson

A play by a young playwright, a young director and a young cast. No, it’s not a National Youth Theatre production in collaboration with the National Theatre – although you should definitely check those out – but Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II performed at the Olivier stage. It’s a five hundred year old play but Marlowe died at 29, most of the actors in the company are in their late twenties and director Joe Hill-Gibbins is 36. The Olivier as a rowdy youth club? You bet, and so much more.

The play is the story of Edward II, King of England, who probably prefers the embrace of his lover Gaveston to ruling England, but rule he must. The power struggles around him involve his wife Isabella, her lover Mortimer, his underage son Edward, his sister Kent, the Barons and the Church. Needless to say it doesn’t end well.

The production spills with energy Continue reading