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Review: Edward II, at the Tristan Bates Theatre

The nine-person cast stalk the stage like a hunting ground, each barely off-stage for a moment

07 September, 2017 — By Sabrina Dougall

HISTORY never appeared more modern than in the Lazarus Theatre Company’s production of Edward II at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

The Edinburgh Fringe award-winning collective bring the immediacy of street theatre to sweat-inducing intensity in a blacked-out room of the back-alley playhouse where the audience goes toe-to-toe with glory-hunting courtiers.

Christopher Marlowe’s revitalised piece on the 14th-century king obsessed with his lover to the rack and ruin of his kingdom marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. Audience members sit in judgement of the floor-level royal courtiers as the tragic love-war over Piers Gaveston plays out.

Leading man Luke Ward-Wilkinson makes a stellar classical drama debut as a petulant and ostentatious king. Edward’s lover, the exuberant Piers Gaveston (Bradley Frith) morphs from childlike glee to pensive ghostliness, displaying a heart-rending emotional range as he is summoned to and banished from the palace.

Cunning nemesis Young Mortimer (Jamie O’Neill) is a devastating sexual threat to Edward, personifying bullish heterosexuality in an age of narrow-mindedness.

Billed as “a young gay man struggling to find his own identity”, the play is actually broader in scope, and is largely a meditation on male fealty, sexuality and justice. The nine-person cast stalk the stage like a hunting ground, each barely off-stage for a moment, eager to overpower the love-crazed monarch. Divided Kent (Alex Zur) delivers a subtle performance as the king’s brother.

Watch out for the sneering expression of John Slade (the Earl of Warrick) as he locks a hungry gaze on hapless Edward. Queen Isabella (Lakesha Cammock), the only female, is a commanding stage presence and at her most compelling during impassioned soliloquies.

Other than gimmicky props, Lazarus’ Edward II is a steal at £15 a ticket. And this skilled troupe is undoubtedly one to watch.

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