I saw Edward II at the National Theatre on Saturday with some uni friends and it was marvellous. I had expected a very dry and serious evening of ye olde English theatre; what I got was perhaps the most surreal production I have ever seen. The staging was both innovative and utterly bizarre; I spent most of the evening staring perplexedly at the madness unfolding in front of me.
The production was a strange merging of old and modern. Characters had telephone conversations in Christopher Marlow’s archaic English. Chambray shirts and skinny jeans were mixed with brocade doublets and plate-mail armour; everyone looked like medieval hipsters. The set looked like a pop-up store in Shoreditch with shipping containers festooned with knick-knacks like taxidermy animals and retro light fixtures.
The most interesting aspect of the staging was the use of video. The stage was separated into a front stage and a back stage. When scenes occurred backstage, obscured from the audience, the action was projected onto giant screens on either side of the stage. These videos felt kind of like a mockumentary or the behind the scenes videos from a DVD boxset. When the barons laid siege to Edward II's castle, the stud walls of the set were torn down, finally exposing the backstage to the audience. This seemed to emphasise Edward II's vulnerability as he stood amongst the wreckage of the set. Some people may find this a bit gimmicky but I really enjoyed it. For some of the more intense scenes the cameras got very close to the actors’ faces, creating an intimacy between actor and audience which is normally lacking in theatre.
I’m finding it very difficult to explain the surrealism of the staging in words. In the middle of a battle scene, soldiers in full armour danced the hokey cokey. If you like your Elizabethan theatre authentic, this is not the production for you. But if you want to see a witty and creative take on Christopher Marlowe’s dramatic tragedy, I highly recommend it.