In one of London’s oldest churches dating back to the 12th century, convention was obliterated and innovation rode supreme through this historic building. This was St Bartholomew The Great, West Smithfield hosting it’s resident Theatre Company Scena Mundi in a performance of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, in a run that alternates with William Shakespeare’s play Richard II.
From the moment the play began, with an authoritative strutting from it’s cast to a 1980’s synthesised track wearing new romantic genre clothing , it was clear they meant business. Director and Founder Cecilia Dorland created a perfect moment, to introduce what was to unfold in Marlowe’s masterpiece.
Edward Fisher is wonderfully self absorbed and head strong as Edward II, with a weakness for Lord Gaveston (Pip Brignall) the sumptuous, not to mention flamboyant figure, who causes quite a stir amongst society. Brignall has a magnetic effect on Edward not to mention the audience, his movements along the vast stage aisle made with ease and great presence. “Curse me, depose me!” laments Edward at the prospect of losing his beloved Gaveston.
Manipulative but scorned Queen Isabella was dressed in a dark lace, that fittingly matched her decent in to despair followed by revenge. Ava Amande’s performance of Isabella certainly showed the effect her husband’s love affair with Gaveston had on her life, by a performance rich with drama but also a vulnerability too, that helped her not border on a charicature.
The court of Edward II was brilliantly cast with each actor bringing a distinctive personality to the differing key players all struggling for power. Martin Prest as Lord Mortimer was wickedly wonderful as the dastardly lover of Queen Isabella, transitioning throughout the play from ambitious, then to downright cut-throat. The adrogynous Edmund Earl of Kent ( Anna Buckland) shone brightly in the disdain for Mortimer, that proved very powerful. Buckland defintely gave an outstanding performance in the role of Edmund, with conviction in every line and every swipe of her sword, that was mesmerizing to behold.
Josh Pugh as Prince Edward was only introduced in Act Two, but made a substantial impact with a big presence that contrasted with the pitiful downward spiral of his father the king, that was so explicitly portrayed by Fisher. A dawn of a new era was beginning, and a naïve and seemingly honourable young man was ascending the throne after the turbulent years of his fathers reign. This however was not overly romanticised in the production, which was an interesting touch.
Scena Mundi are without doubt an asset to British theatre. Artistic Director Cecilia Dorland has created with Edward II an unique experience, fusing the 14th century king together with a new romantic excess and glamour, that locks in all the conspiring of the king’s court impeccably. The cast are a powerhouse, together they work in harmony, with great understanding and acknowledgment of the historic building they are performing within. Edward II will certainly linger in your conscience long after leaving St Bartholomew The Great.
Sad Stories of the Death of Kings
Richard II – 8th May to 3rd July (press 7.30pm 14th May)
Edward II – 19th May to 2nd July (press 26th May)