Review: Edward II

By John Jeffay, September 23, 2011

Royal Exchange, Manchester

The King must banish his boyfriend or lose his crown. That is the dilemma for actor Chris New in the title role as Christopher Marlowe's 400-year-old history play unfolds. It may sound like director Toby Frow is trying to put a contemporary twist on things, but the homosexuality is all there in the script.

This is a very bloody thriller about Edward II taking the throne, then losing it because of his forbidden love for Piers Gaveston (Samuel Collings in eye-shadow and tight jeans). Edward gets a peck on the cheek from the Queen (Emma Cunniffe) at his coronation, and a full-on kiss from Gaveston. And that sets the tone.

The early action is cleverly set in a jazz cafe in the 1950s, an era when homosexuality was outlawed, a new monarch was on the throne, and an empire was crumbling.

The first half is carried along by the outrageous sneering and cavorting of the King and his consort, and the shock this provokes in his stuffy, grey-suited lords. The second is much darker, more sinister, and less accessible. There are more acts of treachery, more deaths and more confusion for those not well acquainted with the tangled plot.

It picks up again in the last 20 minutes though, building to a bloodthirsty finale, with a torture scene that echoes Guantanamo Bay.

There is a vast cast - almost as large as the modest audience at the performance I attended. Owen Fitzpatrick deserves special mention as the child Prince Edward so schooled in scheming that he readily despatches his own mother to the Tower.

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Last updated: 11:24am, September 23 2011