Thursday, 4 August 2016

Edward II, Aug 3, 2016 ***

By Anthony Weigh, by Malthouse Theatre 
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until Aug 21, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Thurs Aug 4, 2016 and later in print. KH

 L-R Johnny Carr & Marco Chiappi_photoPiaJohnson
If you are uncomfortable with seeing naked men in salacious scenes or witnessing graphic, simulated sex and violence on stage, steel yourself before seeing this interpretation of the early 14th century reign of Edward II.

In Anthony Weigh’s play directed by Matthew Lutton, the spotlight focuses directly on the narcissistic Edward II’s (Johnny Carr) presumed, homosexual relationship with his “rough trade” lover, Piers (Paul Ashcroft).

Weigh’s script distils five characters from Christopher Marlowe’s sprawling five act, 16th century play, taking liberties with English history and cleverly combining lyrical language with glib, modern speech.

On a modern, stage design (Marg Horwell) that is more storeroom or museum than mediaeval palace, Carr’s Edward, known here as Ned, prowls like a caged lion, navigating a path from his king-sized bed around schoolroom tables strewn with statues and paraphernalia.

Infatuation collides with cruelty in Weigh’s play but, although much of the violence is abstracted, it is no less disturbing, particularly Ned’s gruesome demise.

Despite his Ned being dislikeable, cruel and dangerously obsessive, Carr blends some boyish charm into this self-indulgent character, mining Ned’s unpredictability and selfishness to create a modern, brattish child of privilege.

Lutton’s production has some highlights but its successes are mostly because of the quality of his actors rather than the direction.

As Ned’s lover, Piers, Ashcroft is boyishly naive and like a modern-day, rent boy who catches a rich lover. Piers is sadly deluded about the security of his position, unaware that his life is in danger from both inside and outside the palace walls.
 L-R Johnny Carr & Paul Ashcroft_photoPiaJohnson
Belinda McClory plays Ned’s resentful, abandoned wife, Sib (Isabella of France), with a clever blend of haughtiness, severity and fragility.

Marco Chiappi is magnetic and commanding as Mortimer, Ned’s nemesis, merging arrogance and manipulative cunning with a touch of campery and affectation.

His lengthy and audacious monologue describing Mortimer living rough after Ned dismisses him is compelling, almost stealing the show.

Two boys share the role of Ned’s young son, with Julian Mineo playing the child on opening night.

The stage is a dangerous place in this production and the stark, penetrating lighting (Paul Jackson) and searing, sometimes unbearably loud soundscape (Kelly Ryall) elevate the sense of threat.

Ned’s relationship with Piers is accepted in a thoroughly modern way and his subjects, who storm the palace in the final moments, object more to the lover “taking over” than to their King’s homosexuality.

Edward II is sometimes alarming and intense but it is also a diverting interpretation of this wayward King and his decadent reign.

By Kate Herbert
 L-R Johnny Carr & Paul Ashcroft_photoPiaJohnson

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