In Anthony Weigh’s play directed by Matthew Lutton, the spotlight focuses directly on the narcissistic Edward II’s (Johnny Carr) presumed, homosexual relationship with his “rough trade” lover, Piers (Paul Ashcroft).
Weigh’s script distils five characters from Christopher Marlowe’s sprawling five act, 16th century play, taking liberties with English history and cleverly combining lyrical language with glib, modern speech.
On a modern, stage design (Marg Horwell) that is more storeroom or museum than mediaeval palace, Carr’s Edward, known here as Ned, prowls like a caged lion, navigating a path from his king-sized bed around schoolroom tables strewn with statues and paraphernalia.
Infatuation collides with cruelty in Weigh’s play but, although much of the violence is abstracted, it is no less disturbing, particularly Ned’s gruesome demise.
Despite his Ned being dislikeable, cruel and dangerously obsessive, Carr blends some boyish charm into this self-indulgent character, mining Ned’s unpredictability and selfishness to create a modern, brattish child of privilege.
Lutton’s production has some highlights but its successes are mostly because of the quality of his actors rather than the direction.
As Ned’s lover, Piers, Ashcroft is boyishly naive and like a modern-day, rent boy who catches a rich lover. Piers is sadly deluded about the security of his position, unaware that his life is in danger from both inside and outside the palace walls.
The stage is a dangerous place in this production and the stark, penetrating lighting (Paul Jackson) and searing, sometimes unbearably loud soundscape (Kelly Ryall) elevate the sense of threat.
Ned’s relationship with Piers is accepted in a thoroughly modern way and his subjects, who storm the palace in the final moments, object more to the lover “taking over” than to their King’s homosexuality.
Edward II is sometimes alarming and intense but it is also a diverting interpretation of this wayward King and his decadent reign.