by Laura Kressly
A man who may or may not be King Edward II finds himself on a stage, with an audience watching and waiting to see what happens next. He has no idea where he is or how he got there, but he’s in good company. Gertrude Stein, Quentin Crisp and Harvey Milk are locked in with him, and they’re none the wiser as well. They all want to get out, but something sinister wants to get in and they can’t to escape until they determine why they’re there in the first place.
As serious as this metaphysical, escape room-esque scenario sounds, Tom Stuart’s rapid-response to Marlowe’s Edward II is full of love, laughter and self-discovery. Though dramaturgically unsteady and slow to unfold, the play’s socio-political intentions have an unquestionable heart of gold that gently encourages those of us who aren’t straight to fight against feelings of inferiority and be proud of who we are. The dialogue is pacey and well-timed, with belly laughs from the audience a regular occurrence.
The queer experience is at the story’s centre, which is no surprise given the historical figures that end up entangled in it. As the characters work together to decipher why they’ve all ended up in this bizarre anomaly of time and space, wider attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people are shared and debated – Harvey is an out and proud believer in community, whilst Quentin wants to keep himself to himself. Edward/not-Edward grapples with growing up in the 1980s under Thatcher’s Section 28. Recent anti-LGBTQ+ news items also make a necessary appearance in the comfort of a country where gay marriage is recognised and homophobia is a hate crime.
Underneath all the absurdity, politics and scrappy script is an unwavering pride that confronts ingrained feelings of shame, embarrassment and being different head-on. Even when that shame is eventually – and sweetly – personified, the strength and confidence of pride wins. Universal truths about growing up queer and the demons that can result from bullying and exclusion for being different are acknowledged, then sent on their way in an explosion of music and love.
Though there are certainly weaknesses in the production, the positives far outweigh them and deserve to be celebrated.
After Edward runs through 6 April.
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