“Why would you love him who the world hates so?
‘Because he loves me more than all the world'”
Modernised, intensified, eroticised – this isn’t Marlowe as you know him but you kinda get the feeling that Kit would have approved of Lazarus Theatre’s re-imagining of Edward II. From the atmospheric parade of its opening to the desperate brutality with which it ends, Ricky Dukes’ production immerses its audience in a world of toxic masculinity and political power-play that rings as true today as it surely ever did.
Edward II’s first act upon becoming king – after donning a sharp gold suit and the most luxurious of fur-lined robes – is to reclaim his lover Gaveston from exile and install him in his court, against the express wishes of the vast majority of his court, not least Edward’s queen Isabella. And so a battle royale begins, not just for the crown itself but for the right to live the life you choose, regardless of how society perceives it.
There’s hints of Propeller’s work here, as Dukes employs an all-male ensemble to fill the stage of the Tristan Bates – Lakesha Cammock’s poised queen the sole variation – and the rough energy they bring to their movement, the inherent threat of their omnipresence (none of them leave the stage), serves as an acute reminder of how difficult it can be to be the one to follow one’s own path, to ‘deviate from the norm’ as they would put it.
But there’s a pleasing complexity here that prevents us just simply calling out homophobia. Something romantic and real comes out of Luke Ward-Wilkinson’s Edward’s reunion with his lover but Bradley Frith’s Gaveston, a petulant curl always on the edge of his lips, encourages in him a total abdication of his responsibilities, a foolishness that can’t help but be doomed, despite the valiant efforts of his brother Kent (a notable Alex Zur).
Thus the king’s actual enemies, led by a highly charismatic Jamie O’Neill as Young Mortimer, could ostensibly point to reasons beyond his homosexuality to excuse their plotting but as they get closer to their goal, there’s no escaping the shadows of hate crime. Sorcha Corcoran’s design and Ben Jacobs’ lighting really come into their own during the truly disturbing endgame. And as the coda suggests that the wheel will keep on turning, that even the most Machiavellian of manipulators can and will get outmanoeuvred, the violence perpetrated on these gay men – on all gay men – is what lingers in the mind.
Whether marking the 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, celebrating Manchester Pride this past weekend, or appreciating Colin Jackson’s coming out (no mean feat even for a retired sportsman), Lazarus’ inspired and intelligent reading of Edward II here reminds us it truly is a gay play for the ages.