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Edward II, Royal Exchange Theatre: Interviews

Kevin Bourke talks to Chris New and Greg Hersov about Marlowe's powerful play

Published on September 4th 2011.

Edward II, Royal Exchange Theatre: Interviews

ONE OF the theatrical highlights of last year was Toby Frow's vivid and intelligent version of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus at the Royal Exchange (click here). Now the theatre's Autumn/Winter season kicks off with another Marlowe classic directed by Frow, this time the epic state-of-the-nation tale Edward II, opening on September 7.

It can be a risk doing theatre, where if something starts to go wrong you've just got to hang on to the end.

"I think we were all very impressed and excited by Toby's debut at the Royal Exchange with Faustus. It was a really exciting piece of theatre that made a great play accessible and relevant," says Artistic Director Greg Hersov. "So, obviously, we asked him to come back and talked about a lot of plays for him to possibly do other than Marlowe's 'other' great play. But in the end we came back to the fact that Toby really wanted to have a go at Edward II and was very clear about why he was interested in it. Marlowe was the writer Shakespeare really did think of as his competition and it's a very different play to Faustus, a political thriller in some ways."

Frow returns with many of the same creative team behind last year’s Faustus, including designer Ben Stones, lighting designer Mark Jonathan and composer Richard Hammarton.

But taking the lead as the young Edward, whose close relationship with his childhood ally Piers Gaveston throws the court and Edward’s marriage into disarray, threatening to destabilise an entire country, is Chris New.

Last seen at the Exchange as Simon Bliss in Hay Fever, other recent credits for Chris include playing Joe Orton alongside Matt Lucas in Prick Up Your Ears in the West End, when Lucas compared working with Chris to finding his Little Britain partner David Walliams nearly 20 years ago. “I thought with David ‘This man is better than me. He will outshine me. But if I work with people like him, I will learn.’ And that’s exactly how I view working with Chris.”

"I think I'd just started talking to Toby about this at the time I knew I was going to be working with Matt," recalls New (pictured), "and, funnily enough, I'd worked with David (Walliams) on TV many years before, playing a young man who was actually just called 'Rent Boy'. So that's still on my CV.

"I'd heard of Toby while I was at RADA, he'd done a very famous version of Beautiful Thing there while I was a student, but we'd never really met before, except to do that nodding across a crowded room thing that actors do.

"I'm quite careful about what I do on stage now and this is going to be my only play this year. It's the only one where it all feels right - Toby directing, the play, coming back to Manchester, everything. It can be a risk doing theatre, where if something starts to go wrong you've just got to hang on to the end, unlike TV or film where you can sometime fix things in the edit. I've done some of those, but this isn't one, this is going to be good, I feel." 

The production is set in the Fifties, with a soundtrack of smoky late night jazz.

"Toby felt that to keep it when it was meant to be set was just a bit too distant to make that imaginative leap between our society and their society. So he was looking at periods in our relatively recent history when there was a kind of feeling of regime change.

"In the Fifties, with the Beat Poets and things like that, there was a sense of the old, grey, dusty Establishment starting to get shaken up. There had been the Wallis Simpson affair and so there was a sense of the old Establishment desperately trying to hang on to the country. In our version it's almost as if, instead of Elizabeth II it's Edward II.

"Jazz is a very good example of how you can go from a very traditional kind of mood into a very chaotic, modern one. It'll be a powerful piece of theatre, I'm sure." 

Let's hope so too. Frow, New and team have big act to follow after the Doctor Faustus success last year.


Edward II is at the Royal Exchange from September 7-October 8. Box Office: 0161 833 9833. Online: www.royalexchange.co.uk/bookonline. The Autumn/Winter season continues with Good by CP Taylor, directed by Polly Findlay (October 12-November 5), followed by Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing, directed by Sarah Frankcom (November 9-December 3). George S Kaufman and Moss Hart’s screwball comedy You Can't Take It With You, directed by Paul Hunter, is their Christmas show, running from December 7 to January 14, 2012. Bringing the season to a close, Manchester comedian and actor Justin Moorhouse returns to the Exchange to star in Two by Farnsworth-born Jim Cartwright, directed by Greg Hersov (January 18-February 25, 2012).

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