A modern audience cannot help but feel familiar with Elizabethan theatre, thanks to a name so synonymous with it that it is often used to describe the era — Shakespeare. Edward II is not by Shakespeare, but rather his contemporary — and rival — Christopher Marlowe, nor is UBC Theatre’s production of the play overly Shakespearian. Instead, Edward II — as it will be performed here — tells the story of the medieval king, but with modern themes and a setting in the early 20th century.
“Marlowe is very direct. In this play in particular, there’s no break,” said Riley Bugaresti, who plays Edward II in this particular production. “It’s full-speed the entire way. I think that, in a lot of ways, people who may have problems with the flowery language of Shakespeare aren’t going to have problems at this play [because] it's so action packed [and] Marlowe is very direct. You get what he’s saying — it’s kind of like an action Elizabethan in a way.”
Bugaresti, who is in his final year of the BFA acting program, may be familiar to the audiences of UBC’s A Face To The Wall/Fewer Emergencies, The Arabian Nights or The Dirty Dutch Rhino.
Edward II is one of the earliest Elizabethan histories, traditionally taking place in 1307. According to Bugaresti, “Edward II is the story of King Edward II and his love for his favourite in the court, Gaveston. It’s a play about a homosexual relationship — one of the first plays written about [one] — and Edward, he’s a man who loves not wisely, but too well.” Love, power, ambition — these themes, so well known to Game of Thrones fans and watchers of American politics alike, will be very familiar and as poignant as ever. As Bugaresti pointed out, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Political corruption is a timeless theme, relevant to almost any period in human history, as is the struggle for the LGBT community — a struggle poignantly tragic in Edward II — still being fought now.
It is an interesting concept to set a historical play in another time period, but Bugaresti explained that it's the themes of the play that let it transcend boundaries of time so well. Bugaresti pointed to another king who was forced to make sacrifices for love and another time that left a nation in chaos. “It’s loosely set in the 1930s just because there was the situation with Edward VIII where he abdicated with Wallis Simpson, which is a little similar, and it was also right before WWII,” said Bugaresti. “It’s interesting to think about Marlowe — this play was written in the early 1590s, it's about King Edward in 1307, it's set in our version of the 1930s and of course, the year right now is 2016. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all the themes of this play, the lust for power [and] homosexuality, are still very prominent. Think about how long that is — from 1307, to now — and there’s really no difference with these taboo themes.”
Edward II was a complicated king in life and Riley Bugaresti found him no less complicated when getting into his mindset for the character. “Edward, from the time he’s a boy, is groomed to be the king. His dad is the king [and] he is going to be the king — it’s a matter of time.”
The complications come from the fact that Edward does not want to be king. Instead, he wants to be with his lover. Like undergraduates with parents dead set on medical school, he’s trapped.
“Imagine your whole life [knowing] that one day you’re going to have to do something. You’ve prepared for it your entire life, but of course, he doesn’t want that at all.”
For Bugaresti, showing this conflict was the hardest part of portraying this enigmatic king. “I think finding the duality between Edward the king and Edward the boy — the boy who just wants Gaveston, who wants to enjoy the showiness and the wealth, and the king who has certain responsibilities to the crown, to the church, to England — I would say finding and playing the duality between boy lover and kingly tyrant was challenging.”
Thankfully, Bugaresti and the rest of the cast had guest director Mary Vingoe to aid them. Vingoe was recently made an officer of the Order of Canada for her contribution to theatre in the country. Bugaresti described her style as active — being based on intuition and movement. He said that she was a great person to “steer the ship.”
Edward II looks to be full of action — with what Bugaresti describes as a “nine dimensional space” on the stage — full of sexuality, gruesome violence and above all else, lust for power. Whether that power be political or the power to make one's own choices, only the play will tell.
Edward II is being performed at the Telus Studio Theatre and Chan Centre for the Performing Arts between September 29 and October 15. Tickets are available at ubctheatretickets.com.