Dance Review: Dark, brutal passion - and not a poker in sight

Edward II Birmingham Hippodrome

Ballet doesn't have to carry a "U" certificate - as Kenneth MacMillan was ever at pains to demonstrate - and in making a ballet of the torrid life and sticky end of Edward II, David Bintley set out to create a dark, flavoursome, sugar-free entertainment. It was made in 1995 for Stuttgart Ballet, and with the help of two principals from that production (Sabrina Lenzi and the excellent Wolfgang Stollwitzer), Bintley has now revived it for Birmingham Royal Ballet, who gave its British premiere on Thursday.

Bintley's gift for storytelling is not infallible (remember Cyrano?) but in Edward II the narrative pace and John McCabe's racing strings and angry drums zip along so that we can cut right to the chase, with none of the expository longueurs that so stifle MacMillan's Mayerling. Within 10 minutes we know who's who and what they are up to.

The curtain rises on a magnificent funeral cortege, looming pillars, cowled figures and dense fog eerily lit by Peter Mumford's expressive lighting. The monks file off, Edward is crowned and immediately resumes his exhilarating tours en l'air with the mercurial Piers Gaveston (Andrew Murphy). His wife is less than thrilled and soon embarks on some steamy pair work of her own with Joseph Cipolla's king-making Mortimer, who is quite clearly A Bad Thing. He and his Barons initiate a civil war in their quest for more power and dominate the stage in testosterone-rich ensembles worthy of the Bolshoi.

The historical narrative is intercut with the 14th-century morality tale Roman de Fauvel, in which a donkey is made king. This is told by a motley crew, including a Fool who sports a large foam-rubber erection that will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to construct a giraffe with pink modelling balloons.

These costumes are designed by Jasper Conran. Sabrina Lenzi gets to model a succession of ravishing bias-cut devore velvet creations that had me dribbling into my programme. Never mind T-shirts: this ballet could take merchandising into an entirely different league. The ladies of the court wear plain black gowns crowned by a fantastical array of medieval funeral millinery ranging from wimples to distended mortar-boards.

Not all of Conran's costumes are this successful. The Barons have more studded leather cod-pieces than you can shake a stick at - if that's your idea of a good time. This heavy emphasis on leathers is reminiscent of the RSC in its late-Seventies biker period.

Much of the ballet's visual impact is thanks to Peter J Davison's mechanistically medieval sets. A high, wide window at the back slides open like a hangar door - a clever design that enlarges still further the Hippodrome's handsome stage. The opening reveals coronations, sunny blue skies and advancing battalions of blood- thirsty Barons. It's a brutal ballet: Isabella slaps her nurse (the excellent Marion Tait), the nurse spits in Gaveston's face, Gaveston is anally raped by the Barons and the King is peed on by his guards before he endures the final, fatal humiliation. His assassin, Lightborne (Tony Norman Wright), is a skinhead who dances a strangely gentle pas de deux with his victim before a portcullis suddenly falls and a glowing brazier is wheeled on. Lightborne tenderly places a black bag over the King's head before taking careful, and terrible, aim.

Family entertainment it ain't. But it's a strong tale, told with conviction, danced with passion and staged with the greatest possible style. Definitely worth shelling out for a babysitter.

To Tues (booking: 0121-622 7486); then on tour

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

    £120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion this leading designer and sup...

    Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee