Directed by Terry Karabelas
Sport for Jove
Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Chippendale
Season: 1 – 17 October
Personal desires writhe within the confines of the public political sphere, each mutually affecting and shaping the other. Edward II is an archetypal example of this clash between individual passion and public duty and the play reveals the violent nature of the human condition when trying to reconcile the two notions. Sport for Jove’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s work transcends its historical setting and cuts to the core of issues integral to our understanding of the personal and the political today. Sex, love, violence and betrayal surface from the private realm in this gripping tragedy that is Edward II.
When Edward II’s male lover, Piers Gaveston, at long last returns from exile, Edward embraces him joyously, laying upon him titles and rewards. Whilst they are mirthful together, Edward’s court see Gaveston as a key weakness to Edward’s reign and plot to have him exiled again. Edward finds himself deeply conflicted to fulfil the duty of his rule and yet consumed with passionate love for Gaveston. As the conflict escalates, bitter violence ensues to see through Edward’s tragic downfall.
In our contemporary political context where the knifing of leaders is becoming alarmingly commonplace, the turmoil depicted in Edward II still does not lose its sting. In our politics, we see only the public aftermath, whereas this play reveals the twisted machinations that occur behind closed doors. The development and breakdown of relationships happens before your eyes, with this dynamic particularly fascinating between Edward, played by Julian Garner and his Queen, Isabella, played by Georgia Adamson. The vacillating love and resentment shared in this relationship both affected, and was affected by, the politics that ensconced the pair. Both knew of the other’s lover and yet sought to make amends for the sake of their reign. Adamson achieved an impressive duality between the public and the private persona, and exhibited how these interact, making for an enchanting performance.
Under Terry Karabelas’ direction, the entire cast is exquisite. Garner leads as Edward II, managing to present himself both as a confident and entitled King, and as a man at his most dejected. The believability of Garner’s character journey is critical to the work, and he successfully garners genuine sympathy of the audience in the tragic situation. Garner evokes vulnerability in his performance with deft skill and gives an extraordinary performance on every front. I was struck by the tragedy of the Princess of Kent, Edward II’s sister and confidante. Highly perceptive about her brother’s downfall, she is aware of the inner workings against him and yet is largely helpless to fight against it. Angela Bauer gives a heart-wrenching performance as the Princess and makes the audience ache with her complete devastation. Michael Whalley superbly takes on the role of Gaveston, Edward’s lover. This is a historically interesting relationship on stage, as the homosexual nature of the relationship has only become more explicit in performances of Marlowe’s work in the past few decades. Whalley is incredibly likeable in his role, which may go with the territory of entering the courts as an underdog figure. Like Garner, he exudes passion in his relationship with Edward which serves to heighten the tragedy.
In spite of audience sympathy and likeability of characters, all of the roles are ambiguous in the morality of their actions. This is a fascinating quality of Marlowe’s play which is emphasised in Karabelas’ direction, as seemingly every character is subject to some form of tragedy, and yet willingly performs maligned acts. There are no clear ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ in this production, which to me speaks truthfully to the human condition, in which all struggle with virtue and vice. Almost every character engages with violence, acting as a brutal reminder of a ‘likeable’ or ‘sympathetic’ character’s corrupted nature. Scott Witt’s fight choreography aids this confronting visual realisation for the audience. The set design of the work, by Alicia Clements, paired with the lighting design, by Ross Graham, cleverly casts the action of the play in shadows, reminding the audience of this duality of light and dark in every person. Marlowe’s affronting of the Catholic Church’s influence in the play remains distinctly relevant today, as melding of religious influence on the state continues to impact a largely pluralistic society.
It is astounding how a play first published in 1593 grapples with themes that maintain their relevance to this day. The continued pertinence of Edward II is a testament to Marlowe’s ability to engage truthfully with the human condition, as well as to the ability of Karabelas, the creative team, and cast to re-work the play in order to speak meaningfully to a contemporary audience. Every individual on the stage is an exemplar of the shifting and conflicting passions, desires and duties fraught within a person, especially when bestowed with public responsibility. Undoubtedly, this play confronts and moves the audience. Every aspect abounds with beautiful intricacies that make for a breathtaking performance. Sport for Jove’s Edward II truly is an impeccable tragedy.