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Thursday, 31 July 2008 00:00

A monarch's priorities

On the stage
Edward II

IN contrast to his fierce father Edward I, known as the Hammer of the Scots, Edward II was a weak, ineffective and effeminate king, whose 20-year reign saw England gradually sink into chaos and confusion.

His passionate friendship with the young Gascon Piers Gaveston scandalised court and country alike. However, it's the king's horrific death that most people remember him for. He had a red-hot poker rammed up his rectum.

Playwright Kit Marlowe also came to a grizzly end, stabbed in the eye in a drunken brawl in Deptford by a spy of Walsingham. Also like Edward, he was homosexual.

Michael Oakley's modern dress production gives his blank verse play a contemporary feel. Periodic bursts of pounding rock music thrust the action along at a nifty pace and sundry traitors are dispatched by firing squad instead of the axe.

Early on, we get a vivid image of Edward's priorities when he turns his throne into a seat for a bout of love-making with Gaveston.

This is watched in horror by his court and revulsion by his young queen Isabella. Obviously, something has to be done about this errant monarch (Philip Cumbus) before he shafts the whole country.

After much intrigue and ruthless power play, Gaveston is murdered and the grief-stricken king turns to young noble Spencer while his queen falls into the arms of Mortimer.

Dressed in a basque and suspenders, she writhes around with Mortimer on - where else? - the throne.

After a successful French-based invasion of England led by Mortimer and Isabella, Edward is eventually captured and meets his hideous end in Berkeley Castle.

His executioner is called Lightbourne, a translation of the Latin for Lucifer and the light that he bears is not one of enlightenment but the red-hot poker of his death.

It is a touch of genius that the king's nemesis is played by the same actor who plays Gaveston - Tom Robertson.

The 10-strong cast are uniformly top-notch and attack the play with great vigour and Oakley's direction is full-on and maintains the pace throughout.

Plays until August 9. Box office: (020) 7223-2223.


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