Edward II, Globe Theatre, London

A court in need of a makeover
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

When my taxi drew up to the Globe, the driver asked what the play was about, and I replied, "The king who gets a red-hot poker up his backside."

"Well, to each his own," he replied, "but I wouldn't fancy it myself." As it turned out, this was a fair judgement not only of the practice but the play.

You can't beat the Globe for historicism, and those who want to see a faithful recreation of the way Marlowe's tragedy would most likely have been performed at its premiere will be more than satisfied by Timothy Walker's production. The costumes of chestnut- and wine-coloured velvet are sumptuous, if not exactly sexy - when Liam Brennan's Edward, in padded maroon sleeves and a doily round his neck, sits down, he looks like his own armchair. The stage is bare, but its surroundings are rich, this time with the addition of backcloths showing the misbehaving gods: Leda and her swan, Ganymede and the eagle. (In extremis, the maverick Edward calls upon Jove, not Jesus.)

Elizabethan songs are sung, and the great battle between the followers of Edward and Mortimer is a stately dance, knees high and forearms held over eyes as if to blot out the sight of slaughter. And, of course, the women's parts (only two) are taken by men, though not with the same degree of success.

As Edward's niece, Richard Glaves (who also plays a crazed peasant and Edward III, both very well) is a sweet English maid, her delicacy spiked with nerviness - small wonder, given a court rife with perversion and homicide.

Chu Omambala, however, several inches taller than the king, with a deep voice and manly stride, makes a less than convincing Queen. The impersonation is inadequate not only from an illusionistic but from a dramatic point of view - a Queen with a powerful presence from the start doesn't take us on any transformative journey from dutiful consort to rebel warrior.

To make the performance completely authentic, some of the groundlings might have been supplied with some vegetables past their use-by date with which to express their opinion of the leads. As the king who spurns domestic and foreign politics to dally with his favourite, Brennan is drab, more petulant than passionate, and doesn't even take his self-absorption to an interesting extreme. His voice is dull and rasping rather than musical or eerie, and even the lingering kisses he bestows on Piers Gaveston lack enthusiasm.

Gerald Kyd, as the boy for whom Edward throws a kingdom away, could stand in for Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen, should the need arise. Large and gawky, with black shoulder-length hair, effortfully hopping and prancing, he seemed always on the point of asking the assembled lords to have a rethink about their tapestries - so heavy.

As Edward's nemesis, Mortimer, Justin Shevlin is the straightest arrow in the quiver, with a neat, short haircut and a neat, nearly prim manner that makes him at times seem a suburban bank manager in tights. The contrast with Edward makes sense, and the characterisation has many nice, often humorous little touches emphasising Mortimer's discom- fort with the heroic role history has thrust upon him. Addressing his troops, he brandishes his sword in a way that shows rallying really isn't in his line. But the all-round lack of fire is dispiriting. In the small part of Mortimer's uncle, the dagger-voiced Bill Stewart seems more like a rebel who, in his day, would have had no qualms about either pageantry or savagery.

To 26 Sept (020-7902 1400)