REVIEW: Edward II (Tristan Bates Theatre) ★★★

Christopher Marlowe‘s homoerotic narrative returns to the stage after a successful run at the Camden Fringe, poignantly marking 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Lazarus Theatre Company aim to inject a modern, dynamic flair into this centuries-old historical play, bringing their award-winning talent to the forefront.

With Edward I dead, his son Edward II is crowned and revels in the news that his beloved Gaveston may now return from banishment. This action is opposed by several of the King’s lords, and what ensues is an epic power struggle of politics, sexual identity and the pursuit of personal liberation.

Adapted and directed by Ricky Dukes, this adaptation of Edward II spans around 1 hr 35 without an interval. Stylistically, Dukes has cast a contemporary eye upon staging (the action set in the middle of a sandwiched audience) of which worked very well on an immersive level. However, there is an issue with space in this production: there are numerous high-energy, heavily-choregraphed moments depicting fight scenes and set movements which are at risk of negatively impacting the audience. I noticed a few audience members in the front rows apprehensively leaning backwards in their seats to avoid being affected by the action, which isn’t ideal, and in such a small space the likelihood of even a well-rehearsed cast making a mistake is still there. It felt as though a little too much was being squashed into a space that just isn’t big enough to accommodate. For this reason, plus the obvious heaviness of listening to 95 minutes of early-English dialogue without an interval, the production disappointingly had more of a draining effect than a rejuvenating one. Yet, the 21st century officewear integrated with specifically significant period items, such as a crown and the King’s robe, provide an alternative juxtaposition of time, implying that the play’s wider contexts of sexuality and identity still holds a firm relevance in the present day.

What became immediately clear was the prestige of it’s leading actor, Luke Ward-Wilkinson, in the role of Edward II. Rarely does an actor command such an entrancing stage presence, capable of keeping many eyes locked on his every movement and articulation. In fact, the casting was consistently excellent in this production – superb diction, beautifully delivered lines, passionate portrayals of intensely emotional scenes. Bradley Frith (Gaveston) and Lakesha Cammock (as Isabella, Edward II’s wife) succeeded in lifting Marlowe’s characters from the pages to create believable, tortured manifestations of Edward II’s lovers and default rivals.

Lazarus Theatre Company boasts an accomplished cast of actors and creative team, and their desire to commemorate such a vital day in the history of equal rights with a revival of Edward II is both poignant and powerful. However, a bigger theatre would vastly benefit this performance, capturing the powerful vocals and action sequences much better, as would an interval. This has the potential to be contemporary and grand, but needs more space to breathe.

Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Adam Trigg