credit: Ben Markey

Edward the Second: Second to None

Alexandra Blanter reviews Mermaids’ recent adaptation of Edward II.

Before I get this started, I must admit that before Monday night, despite the countless performances being put on weekly, I had never been to a production in St. Andrews. While I have previously enjoyed the occasional musical or play, I would by no means consider myself an expert on theatre. That may not seem important, but it is.

Performed on the nights of November 4th and 5th in the St.Age theatre, the play tells the story of Edward II (Ben Clark), who takes the throne after the death of his father, the tyrant Edward I. With his wife Isabella (Issy Sheridan) at his side, he proceeds to overturn his father’s laws and return Piers Gaveston (Joe Torkington) from exile. However, members of the English Court, specifically Mortimer (Toby Poole), Earl of March and Ururper of the Throne, disapprove of Edward and Gaveston’s relationship and rejection of Edward’s policies, and thus plan to stage a coup. As loyalties fluctuate and tensions escalate, Edward is overthrown and sentenced to death.

credit: Britton Suther

While my critiques are far and few between, there are a few things I wish to highlight. Although Toby Poole as the antagonist Mortimer was absolutely convincing and appropriately loathsome, I found the writing of his character a bit one dimensional and found myself wishing for more depth to create a more well-rounded villain. In addition, while dance routines provided a necessary lightness from the play’s intensity and I understand the intention behind them, they felt at times a little superfluous. Certain scenes needed editing down as they lengthened the run time little longer than necessary. Though I must admit, seeing Edward II and Gaveston dancing and singing along to “16 going on 17” from Sound of Music was pretty great. 

But critiques aside, the performance on the whole blew me away. An incredible aspect of Edward II was Gray’s ability to write multi-dimensional, complex minority characters and the casts’ ability to bring them to life. Specifically, Issy Sheridan’s performance as Queen Isabella was exceptional, her shining moment being an absolutely tragic but extraordinary monologue. Clark (Edward II), Torkington (Gaveston), and McCourt (Favian), also contributed impressive and authentic performances. And a special shout out must go to Sebastian Taylor, who although playing a minor role, broke the 4th wall and delivered a chilling and moving speech about violence against LGTBQ+ people not only in the context of the show, but in the real world.

credit: Ben Markey

It is not often that LGBTQ+ characters and women are portrayed in a way that is not comedic or stereotypical, but fully raw and realistic. And it is not often that voices that are not given an opportunity to speak in front of an audience get the chance to do so freely and honestly. Immense credit for this must be given to Gray’s passion, remarkable writing talent and absolutely superb adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s original play, from which only a single page was kept. The entire script, in my opinion, was absolutely gorgeously written. Although set in the 14th century, it managed to weave together witty and smart humour with darker, more intense moments. It tied together issues hauntingly topical such as LGBTQ+ rights and representation, sexual assault, and female autonomy into the present day through powerful soliloquies addressed both to characters and directly to the audience itself.

So while I am no expert on theatre, I must applaud Gray for succeeding to create a show that not only caters to a niche expert group, but managed to appeal to and resonate with universal audience. I must applaud him for succeeding to create a story that has to potential to speak to and effect many, many people. And I must give props to everyone behind the production of Edward II for putting their hard work and taking part of an incredible production that was not only entertaining, but witty, moving, profound and impactful. While this was my first show at St. Andrews, I can say with confidence that I will be returning for many more.

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