Reluctant monarch

26th May 1995 at 01:00
Timothy Ramsden looks forward to Edward ll with Eddie Izzard. Leicester Haymarket and its director Paul Kerryson are known for musicals. But this spring sees Shakespeare (The Shrew) and, in contrast, Marlowe's tragedy Edward II.

It's a play Kerryson has long wanted to direct. "It's a great play and very accessible in its language. And it says a lot about modern society, about personal relationships, about a government wanting to get rid of the monarch's power and a potentially weak king about to take over."

Draw your own parallels. Kerryson hints too at the business ethic pervasive in today's Britain. "Edward's father was very good at war. Edward himself fits very uneasily into the high expectations of him. He's not good at running the family business." Which is running the country. "He would have been a disappointment to his father. He's not interested in being what he should have been."

Marlowe's picture of a weak king must have been outrageous in the days around the Armada, with an ageing queen; the time of Shakespeare's histories. Nor did the Victorian stage take to the play in an age wanting strong rule and empire. Especially as there is sympathy for the regal inadequate. "He never asked to be king. But only at the end, too late, when Gaveston has gone and he is in prison, does Edward have moments to ponder on the position of a king. If he'd put such thoughts into action earlier things would have been better. We can see the traps he faces and feel for him. Not always agree with what he does, but understand him".

Leicester's monarch is played by his near namesake Eddie Izzard. Hamlet time for the clown? Certainly Kerryson is not going for a comic approach; the text, he believes, does not allow it. Nor is he emphasising the gay sensibility of black studded leather seen in some recent versions. This he sees as cutting out other aspects - for example, the several children the Queen had by Edward. What attracted the director to casting Izzard is the comedian's unconventional quality and his strength within vulnerability.

The king is described as bewitched, strange, almost like a girl. The key point is how this makes him different from the lords he's surrounded with. They talk of duty - which, in Renaissance sleaze terms means carving up the land for their own gain. Gaveston too is the wrong person to be around the king, for all his brave defiance of the lords. Edward I banished him, seeing the harmful influence he could be on his susceptible, weak son. He's manipulative, talking of the "pliant king" yet quite different to Edward's face. And his lower class presence at court is an affront to the lords.

And Queen Isabel? "She is confused and has a vision of the dangers. She needs an opportune moment to act. She always stalks guardedly for, whatever her relationship with Mortimer, she still wants to be queen and takes the opportunity to put her son on the throne when she no longer needs her husband. And Edward is quite astute in accusing her of being with Mortimer. Yet, in pointing it out Edward is almost willing the relationship on her."

Kerryson is casting aside parts of the text; historical information and "My lieges". His production has a timeless setting yet with a modern feel. He hopes this will increase accessibility for young people. Pacing is important alongside cutting, some scenes have been run together (though never reordered). Marlowe writes with a terrific pace and lots of short scenes flowing into each other in a way many modern writers find hard to achieve. Today, he thinks Marlowe would have been a fine writer of film scripts. Yet there are also reflective speeches, such as Edward's long resignation of the crown, where the pace slows.

Kerryson believes Edward Il is a political play, presenting the corruption of society. This brings us to Mortimer, who thinks he can run the country yet knows he can never be king. The result is a divorcing of power from majesty. Maybe Mortimer could rule well if he had not become drunk with power and its corruption. Meanwhile, the king's brother sits on the fence.

But we always come back to a man who loved unwisely; Young Spencer is there to show that, even had Gaveston stayed away, Edward would have made the same mistake. So we have the tragedy of "a decent person happy at the start to be king but without the physical and mental attributes to run the country. In any position of power you've got to be able to manipulate. You've got to be a bastard to run a company." Without this, "nothing gets done. Yet Edward couldn't understand why everyone could not just be happy."

Leicester Haymarket until June 10. Tickets: 0116 253 9797.

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