Our Article Writer Daisy Leigh-Phippard visits BA Acting Graduates’ performance of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II.

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AUB’s BA Acting graduates brought Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy of Edward II to life with a confident and sophisticated flare. In collaboration with Costume and Performance Design and Make Up for Media and Performance, the students abridged the old classic but kept the soul of the original at the forefront of the show.

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Modern twists in aesthetic and energetically powered performances from the whole cast made it a joy to watch and like most of the audience I was left wanting more. As Luke Kernaghan the director of the play says, it’s ‘a prowling panther of a production.’
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As you would expect from the Acting course, Edward II is a well cast and carried out piece, with an all round stellar performance. The protagonists of course carried the production through, engaging the audience with even the smallest of gestures, but each role took its positioning in the narrative and explored its place – the rough-tongued murderers definitely won a few laughs from the audience.

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At its heart, the play is one of betrayal and political corruption, and catching the expressions of the audience across the stage proved just how much the emotion of the performance was catching its viewers. Marlowe’s monologues were given with confident power, but the actors took the play’s quiet moments well too, with staggering chemistry amongst everyone.

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The action of the production was deftly rehearsed, but a clear strength was the effortless partnerships and relationships shared between characters big and small, fleeting or lingering, romantic or twisted. Well attuned with the pace and counter turns, the natural and tender connection between Edward and Gaveston could not be overlooked and served as one of the play’s resounding successes in the quality of performance. Likewise, the dark and hateful bond between Mortimer and his minions set the tone for the piece as a whole.
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Something that’s often argued with classic playwrights like Marlowe is the lack of accessibility for modern audiences, but the cast of Edward II prove this wrong with their adaptation: the stage is very much still a competitor for the ‘golden age of high-quality, water-cooler television’, as Kernaghan calls it, if the AUB students have anything to say about it. Even in the early matinee I attended, there was a variety of ages in the audience and I wasn’t the only one to walk out wanting to go straight back in the evening.
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The design of the production itself was something that struck me from the moment I walked in; as you’re shown to your seats you can’t help but let your eyes wander to the throne atop three raised platforms, looming over even the highest audience tiers. Subtly concealed lights line the wooden frame behind the chair and reflect their colours off the clear plastic – something used to its full potential in some of the darker scenes of the play. It’s hard not to be intimidated by the frantic King or vengeful villain when they’re framed in glowing red.
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Iconography is an important aspect of the theatre and defining royalty through costume is a vital part of any piece set at court, so of course Edward’s crown had to be as magnificent as the man who wore it. With a minimal design to beautifully match the rest of Edward’s custom suit, and clearly inspired by Caesar’s laurel wreath, it reflected the characteristics of the King ironically onto the hands it passed through.

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Those of us in the audience were eyeing it up along with the characters. Isabella was certainly Costume and Make Up’s pride and glory, with her meticulous braids, glittering dress, foreboding face of make up and delicate geometrical hair piece mocking her husband’s crown. Yet from the Queen to tragic heroes to minor characters, the creativity of the students was fascinating. The use of modern business suits and bloodied riot gear gave the piece a more contemporary twist, but mixed with the cloaks and candle lanterns one might expect to see in such a play, the audience is given a collaboration between new and old, past and present.

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From all directions, this production was a high-quality, dangerous and entrancing performance. The design was on point and the actors worked in perfect synchronicity, whether it be choreographed actions or beats of dialogue. Bows and smiles during the applause were well earned.

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Words by Daisy Leigh-Phippard // Photographs by Ewa Ferdynus