The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward II King of England,

with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimore

Blog #1

I have been involved with enough theatrical productions over the years to understand the difference between a preview and the finished product. After last seeing the well oiled, hugely reviewed Othello, last night we were at the National for a preview of Edward II, a very different evening! Marlowe’s play concerns one of the most scandalous kingships in the Medieval era, that of Edward II and his lover, Gaveston.

Marlowe is a more direct storyteller than Shakespeare, and the action here is non-stop. We start with Edward’s coronation, and celebrations are immediately cut short by his demand for the return of his ‘favourite’ Gaveston. No sooner has word been sent than Gaveston arises from the audience, bare chested, tattooed and decked out in gold necklaces. This is Gay 21st Century San Francisco meets the Medieval court. He walks down the balcony edges, leaps on stage and greets his king with a full-on kiss. The Barons are appalled, his sister Kent embarrassed and his wife, Isabella furious. All action follows this: The Barons force the King to banish Gaveston again, Isabella, in an attempt to win her husband back persuades them to un-banish him, then their behaviours is so shocking they all go to war. Gaveston is killed, but by then Edward has a new male ‘favourite’ Spencer. Isabella takes the young prince to France, Edward defeats the Barons and executes the leaders, Mortimore and Isabella invade from France and capture the King. Time for a well earned interval! Thereafter the coda is typical Tudor, the victorious Mortimore and Isabella see their victory crumble to dust as the defeated and pathetic King is treated appallingly by his captors, and eventually (famously) sodomised to death with a red hot poker. The proud victors fall and we end with the coronation of Edward as king. What has changed?

Lots of plot for three hours, but the I await the reviews with interest. This is a challenging production. As well as its out and out camp-ness and homosexual behaviour, it also uses live video in a fascinating way – less successfully at first, but brilliantly once the King is captured, his captivity captured in rough video imagery reminiscent of footage of fallen leaders in the recent Middle East. It is neither in period nor contemporary, as Kent changes for high heels and business dress to full armour and the young prince attends his father’s coronation in a school blazer. Pembroke is played by a woman and Mortimore is black so Marlowe would struggle to recognise his characters. The set is medieval though as you can see the production team at the edges, never in the sense that you are expected to believe it. As well as Isabella carrying round a bottle of bubbly at all times. Most of the barons smoke whenever they get the chance. We are clearly in an imaginary time of theatre and it is best not to worry about it.

The acting was stunning throughout. John Heffernan as Edward was at times very gay, very exuberant, athletic but also sombre and eventually pathetic. He speaks the prose in so many styles yet is never wrong (apart from once when he forgot the words!). Vanessa Kirby as Isabella was also wonderful, a 21st century lush, a medieval She-wolf. And the King’s sister Kent, played by Kirsty Bushall, the one baron who vacillates, is also a finely played part. But all the characters, the soldiers as well as the leads were brilliantly in tune with this anarchic production.

It was a preview and it did have many rough edges, the most obvious of which was Isabella getting her necklace tangled with her microphone in the final scene, but these will soon be ironed out. And while it ran at 3 hours last night, I suspect that 20 minutes will disappear over the next couple of weeks. In fact, we are tempted to see it again when it has run in. But through all the teething problems, I thought this was a dynamic, exciting and original production, creating an individualistic new take on the text and indeed the times. Many will doubtless hate it, but is you love theatre, I suggest you get your tickets now before the reviews come in!

Blog #2

Blog #3

Blog #4

Blog #5

Blog #6

Blog #7

Blog #8

Blog #9

Blog #10





If you would like to comment on any of these Blog pieces please email me on:



Return to home page