After Edward, starring and written by Tom Stuart, is an atmospheric, smart and sophisticated comedy drama that demonstrates that Stuart is an artist with an acute opinion on life and the circumstances that shape us as human beings. Lit only by natural candlelight and directed with enormous passion by Brendan O’Hea, the 100-minute running time is packed to the rafters with set pieces that are out to evoke a heartfelt reaction from the audience.
The play opens with Stuart lying face down, his body stretched out, elongated as if in a state of repentance, perhaps symbolic of falling from grace. He stirs, and does not where he is or who he is. Confused and eager for answers, a variety of characters enter the proceedings to give him those answers.
There is the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of Edward II played with an air of contempt by Richard Bremmer; Gertrude Stein, played by Annette Badland, sitting resplendent on a pink toilet that she rides around the stage on like a dodgem car at a fairground. An outstanding Richard Cant as Quentin Crisp is lowered down from the heavens on a swing; Polly Frame as Harvey Milk, complete with bullhorn, enters by climbing over the audience and Sanchia McCormack as Margaret Thatcher, whose performance is just sensational, enters the stage via a trapdoor. Despite being asked to leave by Stuart (who we now know is an actor who’s just played Edward II), Thatcher keeps coming back, as she has something more to say in that monotone condescending voice. It’s very clear that Stuart has a real dislike of her; a distaste for Tory policy including Section 28 which was abhorrent to him.
This is a very polished play, a cheerful delight that echoes the fact that people are either pro or anti the Establishment. Superbly constructed – and if seen as a history lesson, concise and accurate. Stand out moments are McCormack’s rendition as Mrs T of “I Am What I Am”.
Stuart piles on the irony and explores the use of broad farce with effortless skill and dexterity. The finale is a rip-roaring, rousing singalong complete with a confetti cannon being fired and overflowing into the theatre’s reception. An ecstatic piece of very modern theatre that is a joy from start to finish with a sincere message from an author who shouts out loud that it is more than OK to be who you are and how you want to live your life. Enormous fun and a huge celebration of queer life.
Photos by Marc Brenner