It would probably shock even Christopher Marlowe to know that his plays, including Edward II, would still be performed after 450 years. It would perhaps shock him even more to learn that they could still be relevant and inventively staged, providing audiences with a fresh perspective on a classic tale.
In another shock for Marlowe, we’ve entered the Tristan Bates Theatre to the sound of electronic dance music, the stage is lit overhead by harsh strip lighting and an ever-growing group of men walk the stage in modern suits, casting suspicious glances at each other. It lets us know immediately we will be watching a staging of Edward II very different to the original. The adaptation comes from Director Ricky Dukes, who has very considerately maintained the language, while adding a certain art-house feel to the entire production, and billing Edward II as the “First Gay Play”.
The King is dead, and Edward has acceded to the throne, his first act as King is to return the banished Gaveston to the realm, and his noble men are not happy. Edward frequently refers to “my Gaveston” as his friend, in reality they are lovers and cavort around flaunting their courtship with quite literal gay abandon. The Noble Men, led by Young Mortimer and supported by the King’s consort, Isabella, set in motion a plan of treachery and treason which wouldn’t be out of place in any modern-day Netflix series.
Luke Ward-Wilkinson portrays Edward as a petulant toddler, leaping around the stage with dynamic enthusiasm, in the later scenes he packs an emotional punch leading to an awe inspiring climax. Lakesha Cammock stands out, not only as the lone female, but for the powerful performance she delivers, lifting the ancient text from the page.
Bradley Frith has the unenviable task of opening the play with a long and complicated monologue, which he carries off with ease and continues to impress throughout. The innocent looking Jamie O’Neill is more than able to pull off the duplicitous Young Mortimer.
Marlowe’s writing tends to be a little less ornate than Shakespeare, so the plot is easy enough to follow, even for those unfamiliar with the piece. While some of the cast occasionally veer towards a recital of the lines it’s generally brought back on track fairly quickly with the excellent staging or witty delivery. A real strong point is the lighting, designed by Ben Jacobs, which really accentuates the action happening on stage.
Perhaps in another 450 years, Pinter or Churchill will be performed to music not yet composed or costumes not yet designed, but for now we can relish in the talents of the team at Lazarus Theatre who have brought us the opportunity to consider how much has really changed, in the form of a beautifully adapted Edward II.