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Edward II review at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London – ‘an exhilarating production’

Beru Tessema as Gaveston and Tom Stuart as Edward in Edward II at San Wanamaker Playhouse, London. Photograph: Marc Brenner Beru Tessema as Gaveston and Tom Stuart as Edward in Edward II at San Wanamaker Playhouse, London. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II is a thrilling account of a fascinating episode in British history, one filled with personal and political dilemmas. Nick Bagnall’s new production does it justice, galloping through the knotty maze of intrigue, power play, violence and love.

Edward II (Tom Stuart) has just ascended the throne, but signs of unrest are already visible. At the centre of a series of events that will end with Edward’s gruesome murder, is the King’s relationship with Piers Gaveston (Beru Tessema), a man the country’s barons are desperate to see disposed, either though exile or slaughter.

Bagnall’s sophisticated staging for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse draws out the sincere love that underpins Edward and Gaveston’s relationship. Although there’s a highly sexual charge to all their interactions, Stuart and Tessema also exude tenderness and affection for each other. In the cold world of courtly mannerisms, politically-motivated marriages and untrustworthy advisors, this uncompromising love is made all the more precious.

The performances of the cast as a whole are excellent. Jonathan Livingstone – always a pleasure to see on stage – is a particularly charming Mortimer Junior, making the character seem like a natural leader.

But it’s Stuart who makes the production so engaging, particularly in the latter parts, delivering lengthy, tricky speeches with a graceful naturalism and measured passion. Near the end, when struggling with the demand to resign his crown, he addresses one of his questions to the audience: “Are you moved?” he asks. We are, we are.

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An exhilarating production of Christopher Marlowe’s play featuring a fantastic performance by Tom Stuart