Die Fel Omstrede Kroon van Edward II en Gaveston: A haunting rendition

Horror in real life often translates to tragedy on stage, yet tragedy, fundamentally, is about the inevitable rather than the tragic itself.

Guiding audiences through a gripping odyssey of love, power, and tragedy, Die Fel Omstrede Kroon van Edward II en Gaveston is set against a backdrop of political and personal turmoil. This adaptation by Tom Lanoye of Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II of 1594, delves into the complex relationships of King Edward II, his son, his wife Queen Isabella, and his sweetheart, Gaveston.

The plot is riveting: King Edward I is dying and unwilling to leave the crown to his son, for whom he has the utmost disdain, due to his scandalous relationship with his male lover, Gaveston. Gaveston’s return from exile sets in motion a series of events that inexorably lead both him and Edward II closer to the grave.

Directed by Marthinus Basson, the portrayal of Edward II is powerful and poignant, capturing disorder brought on by the weight of the crown. Edward II is mighty but trapped, stupefied by love. His unwavering love for Gaveston (I love you as if we were the same person) challenges his love for Isabella through contrast and contradiction; what is he willing to give up for him that he cannot give up for her? This dichotomy creates long standing emotional rivalry.

In a cast of exceptional talent, Beer Adriaanse’s portrayal of Gaveston stands out, infusing the character with depth, warmth, and humor, while Edwin van der Walt masterfully reveals Edward’s inner vulnerabilities. Andre Roothman’s performance as Mortimer, the 14th-century Marcher lord notable for his opposition to Edward – is particularly noteworthy for its inspired energy and impact. He is menacing, adamant and some might even say evil.

Rolanda Marais as Queen Isabella delivers a masterful portrayal of a woman caught between the love she has for her husband versus her maternal love for her son, with the added complication of her loyalty to the crown. There is a particularly memorable scene between her and Mortimer, but the chemistry between all the actors as the play out the tensions between their characters, is palpable, drawing us into the web of relationships. We feel the love, the hate and the resentment. We taste the bitterness, the sweet and the salt – every bit devoured.

Haunting and evocative, the soundscape added a layer of depth to the storytelling. From the silent echoes of characters behind a glass panel to the stirring crescendos of music, every note enhanced the emotional impact of the work. Similarly, the lighting design by Nicolaas de Jongh, minimal yet impactful, illuminated key moments through subtlety and grace. The use of sharp but warm light together with a wreath of flowers depicting Edward’s burial resulted in a visually stunning tableau that lingers in the mind.

At the heart of the play is a profound exploration of tragedy and human nature. As the story unfolds, we are forced to confront difficult questions about loneliness, love, betrayal, and greed. The play’s central themes resonate deeply, reminding us of the universal struggles we all face in navigating life’s uncertainties. Die Fel Omstrede Kroon van Edward II en Gaveston is a triumph of storytelling and stagecraft. It challenges, provokes and leaves one utterly hopeless.

Die Fel Omstrede Kroon van Edward II en Gaveston ran at the Baxter Flipside from 16 to 27 January 2024. The performance has English surtitles.

Basson has been showered with many accolades during his illustrious career, including The South African Academy of Science and Art Honorary Medal for Drama, recognizing his profound impact on South African theater.

Photo: Edwin van der Walt as Edward II and Beer Adriaanse as Gaveston, by Hans van der Veen/KKNK

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