Review: 'Edmund Ironside, or War Hath Made All Friends'

Image Source: Mermaids: The University of St Andrews Performing Arts Fund

Image Source: Mermaids: The University of St Andrews Performing Arts Fund

By: Taliha Gazi

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Mermaids’ production of Edmund Ironside, or War Hath Made All Friends, sealed the iambic spiels and poetic effusions of the Shakespeare Festival in a final production depicting the life of Edmund II of England. While the authorship of this chronicle play is a quibbling matter to many critics, the calibre of acting and the artistic passion on behalf of the play’s director, Benji Bailey, would have made even the Bard himself want to wax lyrical about it.

It can be a perilous business producing a history play in a society where politics is synonymous with the people. It is the zeitgeist of the 21st century to be more concerned (and understandably so) with Beyoncé’s latest album than the martial squabbles between kings of the bygone world. Populist politics has been subsumed into pop culture, and our conception of culture has never been more visual. For this reason, the power of the theatre could be more potent than ever if it is able to engage the right audiences.

Laudably, Edmund Ironside exploited the aesthetic with its choreographic scene changes and stage combat alongside accompanying music, combining the visual with the audible in an insidiously pleasing way. Despite the minimalistic set design, the projected image of a gothic window in one scene was a creative and resourceful means of indicating a transition into the church. There were moments during the play, however, when speech became muffled by actors turning their backs to the audience, causing crucial dialogue and facial expressions to be left unappreciated.

Such minor staging errors could not detract from the ebullience and the brilliance of the acting, however. In amidst the fun, fatuousness and political fraud, Edmund Ironside (Ebe Bamgboye) embodied nobility and a remarkable cool-headedness which naturally earned him the audience’s sympathy. It is a shame, nonetheless, that he was not given more time on the stage.

Contrarily, and with his characteristically enthusiastic persona, the ‘wheeler-dealing’ demagogue, Canutus (Noah Liebmiller) acted in opposition to the more cautious, yet equally power-hungry, Edricus (Jared Liebmiller), whose craftiness was at odds with Canutus’ simple courage. Stitch (played by himself!) was superbly entertaining, employing one of Shakespeare’s most loved tropes, that of the character Falstaff in the Henry IV series, to the full extent of its comic worth. Adding even more mirth to the mix were the Archbishop of Canterbury (Gareth Owen) and his rival, the Archbishop of York (Andrew Chalmers) in what was a well-balanced production brimming with light-heartedness and ruthless Machiavellianism – the perfect blend to harmonise those unsteady bodily humours.