Right now you can see Edward II by Christopher Marlowe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is part of Shakespeare’s Globe, SE1. It will be followed immediately on 21 March by After Edward, a new play by Tom Stuart who stars as Edward in both plays. Dave Cross spoke to Tom about these plays that explore different aspects of Edward’s relationship with his gay lover.
Hi Tom, at the moment you are playing the title role in Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, what’s the story of the play?
Based on a true story it follows Edward, a medieval English king, who was deposed and then murdered, in a large part because of his homosexual love affairs. The play is a political thriller with a gay romance at its heart.
Edward has a male lover, would that have been really shocking at the time?
Yes and no. It was accepted, to a degree, that this was something that could happen, but it was very much expected to happen behind closed doors, on the down-low. What outraged Edward’s court was that he was demanding that his lover have equal status to his queen – he wanted their relationship to be publicly honoured and accepted.
Once you finish in Edward II you are in After Edward, a play you’ve written, what’s the concept of this?
It’s about an actor who has just played Edward II, the part has stirred something deep within him and the boundaries between himself and Edward have become blurred and he is forced to look at some of his own inner demons. It’s about pride and shame, a celebration of how far we’ve come in the fight for LGBTQ rights and an opportunity to look at how far we still need to go.
How did the idea come about?
I’ve felt very connected to the character of Edward II for a long time and when Michelle Terry (the artistic director of Globe) and I talked about the possibility of a production of Marlowe’s play we got excited about the idea of a modern response to go along side it. After reading Alan Downs’ book ’The Velvet Rage’ I felt really compelled to write something about shame, a topic that I think is rarely explored in our culture. The book by Downs exposed some dark knots within myself that I wanted to unravel, my hope is that in the process of doing that it will encourage others to explore and shed some of their own sense of shame too.
In After Edward we meet some famous gay people from history can you tell us about them?
Edward finds himself locked in a room with Gertrude Stein, Harvey Milk and Quentin Crisp. They each have their own ideas about how best to navigate your way in the world whilst being gay and begin to share the stories of their own struggles. I’m in deep awe of anyone who dares to raise their head above the parapet in an attempt to make other people’s lives better and these three people, in their own complex ways, did exactly that. They are just a handful of the many people whom today’s gay men and women owe a huge debt of gratitude.
Both plays are performed by the same cast, can you tell us why that was done and what problems or benefits it brings?
I’m lucky to be working with ten of the best, most generous, talented actors – so they’ve made my job really easy. It’s been a total joy flitting between the two plays for us as both projects have started to feed each other. The hope is that each play will offer the actor something that enhances their understanding of their character in the other play. Part of the joy for the audience who come to see both plays will be seeing these actors play very different parts and in some cases finding continuities between the two.
Tickets for both plays from shakespearesglobe.com
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 21 New Globe Walk, SE1.