Edward II

Edward II (Lazarus Theatre)
Photo credit: Adam Trigg

After bringing the festival spirit to their adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew earlier in the summer, Lazarus Theatre return with another classic: Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. 1967 was a rather pivotal year, including the Summer of Love and partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. It is the latter that Lazarus are commemorating here, branding the play “Marlowe’s gay epic”.

On becoming king, Edward II brings his lover Gaveston back from exile and heaps titles upon him, to the discontent of the court. The lords persuade the king to banish him again, but he’s only sent as far as Ireland – and Isabella (the queen) then convinces the nobles to let Gaveston return, though only so they stand a better chance of killing him in England. This quickly comes to fruition and Edward finds himself isolated, just as the younger Mortimer starts to gain more power and influence…

Edward II (Lazarus Theatre)
Photo credit: Adam Trigg

Lazarus’ production (adapted and directed by Ricky Dukes) comes in at around 100 minutes straight through; in that way it loses its “epic” tag, and along with it some of the intricacies of the plot (such as Mortimer’s adulterous relationship with the queen). On the whole, however, it tells the story well. It appears to be set in the 1980s – for me Sorcha Corcoran’s design has a very American Psycho feel to it, with the pinstripe suits and bloody violence – and this setting really adds to the idea of power struggles, as well as having extra pertinence for the theme of homosexuality running through the play (for one thing, the AIDS epidemic really started to take hold in the West at this time).

It is performed in the traverse, though with the modest space of the Tristan Bates Theatre it almost feels like it’s in the round – particularly with the cast remaining at the sidelines throughout (excluding Isabella, curiously). This allows it to flow seamlessly, Ben Jacobs’ lighting design adding intimacy and atmosphere, whilst subtly differentiating between separate scenes and locations.

Edward II (Lazarus Theatre)
Photo credit: Adam Trigg

The cast is strong (if very male), showing full commitment to this very full-on version of the play. Lakesha Cammock’s projection is commendable, but she requires greater volume control; in a studio of this size there’s no need to be anywhere near that loud. Andrew Gallo and Jamie O’Neill impress as Mortimer Senior and Young Mortimer, respectively, and Alex Zur is a fantastically loyal Kent.

Bradley Frith portrays Gaveston as something of an upstart; you can understand how the lords could get so wound up by his presence, but also how he makes the king so happy. And as the eponymous Edward, Luke Ward-Wilkinson gives a flawless performance, demonstrating the king’s individuality (he was very much unlike his father in several aspects) but never resorting to camping it up. He shows the intensity and depth of Edward’s affection for Gaveston – and the king pays a very heavy price for it.

Edward II (Lazarus Theatre)
Photo credit: Adam Trigg

My verdict? A radical new version of one of Marlowe’s classics, told in typically bold Lazarus style – watch it if you dare!

Rating: 4*

Edward II runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until 9 September 2017. Tickets are available online  or from the box office.

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