The plays may have been written 420-odd years apart, but I was really struck by how many parallels there were between the discussion I hosted last week, to the European premiere of Jordan Tannahill‘s Late Company at Trafalgar Studios, and the one I hosted last night, to Christopher Marlowe‘s 16th-century classic Edward II.
Late Company, set in modern Canada, is driven by the suicide of a teenager who commits suicide after being bullied for being gay and ‘a freak’. Edward II, one of the earliest English history plays, is Marlowe’s take on the ill-fated reign of the monarch, who is murdered for his own gay relationship. As with all Lazarus productions, artistic director Ricky Dukes makes Marlowe’s 1592 classic look and feel utterly modern, including sleekly be-suited earls and a tightly condensed 90-minute running time.
But the real resonance with Tannahill’s 21st-century story? Ricky said it best during the post-show discussion:
“Ultimately, it’s about identity. It’s someone coming out and saying, this is who I am, but the world around him saying, that’s not what you can be. We like to think we all live in a liberal society, and everyone will accept it when you come out, but that’s not always the way, even in 2017. So in a way, Marlowe is completely ahead of the game in terms of identity and sexuality. He knows what it’s like to be in a world that says, no, you can’t be like that.”
Lazarus Theatre’s production of Edward II was planned for this summer, catching the tail end of Camden Fringe as well, as the company’s way of marking 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. That was also the hook for last night’s discussion: How pertinent is Marlowe’s 16th-century gay play as we reach this milestone anniversary in British social history? How far have we come in terms of gay rights? How far do we still have to go? How has and does theatre play a part?
In addition to Ricky Dukes, the panel comprised: Luke Ward-Wilkinson, who makes his classical theatre debut in the title role, who nearly came out himself during the discussion while paying homage to his gay brother in the audience; Mark Woolgar, classical scholar and co-author of the book Theatre Studies; and theatremaker, campaigner and ‘one of the Top 50 influential LGBT voices on social media’ Zack Polanski, returning to our Lazarus panel after The Caucasian Chalk Circle earlier this year.