Drunk Theatre Week: “Edward II” at the National Theatre

Hello! This week I am trying out a theme, and that theme is “plays I have seen when I, the performers, and/or both have been totally blotto”. Here’s the tentative schedule:

Monday: Edward II at the National Theatre
Tuesday: Shitfaced Shakespeare at Edinburgh Fringe
Wednesday: Total Hero Team at the Camden Head
Thursday: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (possibly – am seeing this tomorrow, may not post about it if I am too sober during)
Friday: Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic


So Edward II! This is what made me think of the theme, because I was absolutely shitfaced rat-arsed drunk when I saw this last Wednesday. I met a friend, Louisa, at around 6pm at a railway-themed cocktail bar by Waterloo station, which was doing two-for-one drinks until 7pm. So we got two drinks. At 6:30pm we said “Well, it’s just good financial sense, really” and got two each, and then forty-five minutes after that we realised it was fifteen minutes to curtain, necked all the drink that was left and stumbled out in haste. We wandered around the South Bank for half an hour reminiscing about our favourite stage Beatrices and going “it’s around here, right?” until we hit Southwark Bridge, where we realised we had gone approximately four times too far, doubled back along the river and reached the NT twenty minutes after the play had started.

“We’re quite late,” I breathed apologetically to the steward, who was very kind and said we could go in at the next break in fifteen minutes. Until then, she said, indicating the bar, we could grab a drink and relax. So we did that: the NT is doing a ‘Desdemona’ cocktail to match their production of Othello, which is made with Sipsmith gin (made in London, great choice) and elderflower. (Thank you very much to Christopher Kear at the NT for helping me track down the ingredients.) It was lovely; so lovely that we ordered two more for the interval.

And gosh the play was gooood (what we saw of it anyway). I suspect the FT is right and this Edward II is a ‘Marmite’ production, but unlike Marmite the people who don’t like it are dead wrong. When we came in Edward (John Heffernan) and Gaveston (Kyle Soller), a fit American in tight trousers, were crawling around on the floor making out, GREAT start. Isabella (Vanessa Kirby) entered trailing a champagne flute and her pubescent son (Bettrys Jones – a short adult woman, a reversal of Elizabethan boy actors playing women, which I liked), who was struggling with the bottle and dutifully topping up the glass whenever Isabella gestured vaguely behind her. My hero. Gaveston was banished, un-banished, possibly banished again and then un-banished a second time before being banished for the third and final time (this time to DEATH), while tall chaps with horns and animal heads hung around the stage looming over people, sort of like automaton zombie Robb Starks. A baron with big hair took a call on a landline and ended it with “I’ll call you back” – I couldn’t figure out whether that was a clever re-purposing of a real line or a new addition, but it sent a delightful crackle through the audience. Lots of people were beheaded including Fit American Tight Trousers, Baron With Big Hair and Other Baron. Oh Other Baron, we’ll miss you most of all.

At the interval we fetched our new drinks and popped outside, where it was very cold and people kept bumping into me even though there was loads of space, very odd. We discussed key points and in-depth analysis of the play, such as “This is so Richard II, isn’t it? Total Richard II. Totally. …What’s with the dog heads?”

There are a few Conceits in this production, but I loved all of them: there is an interior space the audience can only see via concert-style video screens on the sides of the stage, and the script is mostly Marlowe, but better. Also, I hate to say it but Isabella is a slightly better version of Margaret of Anjou, isn’t she. I mean, obviously she is not having as good sex with Mortimer as Margaret is with Suffolk, and Edward deeply resents her instead of just following her around handflapping like Henry does, but Isabella’s trying a bit harder to make things work instead of defaulting to Fuck You I Will End You and ends up being more effective. Margaret is still my number one favourite forever and ever amen but if Isabella had four plays to stretch out in, who can say?

A couple had been sitting next to me, but they did not return for the second act. Whether that was because of the modern production (you never know, people walk out of the classics for the weirdest stuff) or the gin and elderflower fumes I had been breathing all over them, we will never know. However, the people on Louisa’s left were in roughly the same state as we were and on average our row had a smashing time; I feel the lesson here is, where possible, always sit with the £12 ticket people.

I do not recall very much about the second act except being very moved by it, and some gold blobs moving around on the upper part of the stage (possibly this was Mortimer?), and lots of plastic sheeting and a Casio keyboard piano. It was all very moving though, as far as I remember, so if you go prepare to be Moved.

On the way home I bought a chicken baguette from Upper Crust in Waterloo station and once on the Tube thought it would be hilarious to re-enact that scene from “Trading Places” where Dan Akyroyd eats a salmon out of his beard, so I shoved the baguette down my cardigan and took a few bites from the bit sticking out the top. I was right that this was extremely funny, and when I looked around the carriage giggling to see whether my fellow passengers appreciated my clever take on a film classic, they were all enthusiastically joining in the re-enactment by side-eyeing me and scooting as far away as possible.

Between bites I flipped through the program and found it referred to Marlowe as a progressive kind of “freethinker” (which is I think what some secular atheists call themselves these days?) which I disagree with because (a) if Marlowe is any kind of atheist he is obviously a Catholic atheist, not a secular one, and (b) in my opinion the most consistent philosophical line he takes is “LOL trolled you”. I tried to note this criticism in the margin of the program but as I bent over to get a pen out of my bag, the baguette fell all the way down into my cardigan and I had to reach down my top to fish it out, dropping the pen, which rolled down the carriage, at which point I decided retrieving it would be undignified.

VERDICT: Enjoyed greatly, have booked tickets to see it again with Ewan near the end of its run, possibly in less of a state (although who can say). WOULD RECOMMEND BOTH DRUNK AND SOBER.

Edward II is on at the National Theatre, SE1 9PX through to October 26; tickets are £12-£34 and a Desdemona cocktail is around £6.50.

4 thoughts on “Drunk Theatre Week: “Edward II” at the National Theatre

  1. Drunk theatre is definitely something I will be doing more often in the future, it was a brilliant evening. I would see the production again sober-er if I had the chance, as there were some very good individual scenes – I remember that Prince Edward suddenly turning into a monumental badass at the very end was pretty good. I still don't really get the dog heads, but it the whole thing was so very Concept, that I don't especially mind. Would see John Heffernan in anything again, plus Isabelle, Tight Trousers Gaveston and Big Hair Baron.

    I can't wait to see your review of Much Ado. I had two margaritas beforehand, but that was nowhere near enough.

    • Kerry says:

      I had been drinking fizzy wine all afternoon, which was also nowhere near enough. I'm slightly concerned "enough" might be "alcohol poisoning"…

  2. between4walls says:

    "if Marlowe is any kind of atheist he is obviously a Catholic atheist"

    I very much do not think this was the case; he seems to me to be way out on the bleeding edge of Protestantism, almost off the spectrum. (This is supported by the tracts that led to his heresy issues in the first place, which were somewhat Unitarian if I remember correctly. Though who knows if those were really his or Kyd's?) It always bugged me that the Christians he satirizes in his plays are the at-the-time persecuted in England Catholics, never Protestants.

    And freethinker is the older (late c 17) word which encompasses a wide range, including Deists, people who have a heterodox interpretation of their own religion, pantheists, atheists, agnostics, etc. It's probably the best word to say, "We know he had some heterodox/heretical views but don't know what they were specifically." The main qualifications being a rejection of the standard dogma, and in the direction of providing a greater role for reason rather than heterodoxy in the direction of greater mysticism (yeah, the terms are problematic, but I don't know how else to put it).

    Isabella is awesome, and I have a huge soft spot for Mortimer ("Then cry quittance, madam, and love not him") and Spencer. Though the scene where Elder Mortimer tells Young Mortimer, "Who cares that Edward's gay, get over it, loads of awesome people were gay, and not kings only but the wisest men. The point is that he's incompetent!" is hilarious.

    "her pubescent son (Bettrys Jones – a short adult woman, a reversal of Elizabethan boy actors playing women, which I liked), who was struggling with the bottle and dutifully topping up the glass whenever Isabella gestured vaguely behind her"

    Oh wow, that's great

    Speaking of Marlowe, I always found it interesting that The Jew of Malta is a tragedy that's funny and The Merchant of Venice is a comedy that's tragic.

    Hero and Leander is the best, though. Hilarious classy porn that rhymes!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.