Edward II at the ballet
dward II (reigned 1307-1327) was probably the worst King England ever had. Taking more interest in pleasure than statecraft - and in particular in his strong (and probaby sexual) attraction to his favourite, Piers Gaveston, a Gascon knight - his excesses upset the Barons, who arranged Gaveston's murder. Subsequently Edward lost the Battle of Bannockburn to the Scots, and his increasingly decadent behaviour led to a revolt headed by his wife Isabella: eventually Edward was forced to abdicate, and was imprisoned and subsequently probably murdered. (I have considerably simplified a complex piece of history.)
Playwright Christopher Marlowe presented the story in his play of 1593, Edward II, with reasonable accuracy, and in 1995 choreographer David Bintley used this as the basis of a full-length ballet with a special score by John McCabe, currently being performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadlers Wells Theatre. If ballets, like films, came with a rating this would definitely be for adults only: it doesn't mince matters such as extreme violence and degrading sexual activity.
The choreography tells the story clearly, presenting the love between Edward and Gaveston, and Isabella's shame as a young bride on discovering this. The Barons (choreographed in a macho manner reminiscent of the Romans in Spartacus) and Edward enter a Civil War; the Barons murder Gaveston in bully-boy fashion: and the act ends with Edward's avowal of revenge.
The second act is not quite as successful: Edward has a new lover, Hugh Despenser - there is always a danger of lewd behaviour on stage looking risible, and a rather odd scene with the two plus Edward's son and his nurse doesn't quite come off. Isabella and their son go to the French court (costumed, for some reason, in a manner reminiscent of Edwardian styles, but providing the only light and colour in the ballet) and she and her lover, Baron Mortimer, raise an army to invade England. The invasion is presented in the usual manner of soldiers running across the stage: Despenser's barbaric execution is hinted at rather than shown in detail; and Edward's vicious murder is shown clearly, with his executioner played by the dancer who was Gaveston in Act 1. One slightly dubious addition is the supernatural figure of Death who appears at various points - since everyone else in the story is 'real' (including some bawdy players who entertain Edward) this rather jars.
An excellent performance all round of a difficult and bold ballet: Edward was danced yesterday evening by Iain Mackay, Gaveston by Martin Harvey, Isabella by Elisha Willis and Mortimer by Dominic Antonucci.
Posted: Fri - October 12, 2007 at 09:33 AM by Roger Wilmut
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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM