Written by Christopher Marlowe
Directed by Toby Robertson
Ian McKellen in the role of Edward II
Edinburgh Festival, UK and European tours, Mermaid Theatre and Piccadilly Theatre.
28 August 1969 - 21 March 1970

Words from Ian McKellen

When Toby Robertson, artistic director of Prospect Theatre, decided to revive our Richard II, he thought to accompany it with his own production of Edward II, a play he had previously directed with Derek Jacobi and other Cambridge undergraduates in 1957. I recall he asked Alan Bates, who was busy elsewhere. I may even have suggested myself to play both kings. In 1969 it was still considered an outrageous play, after all, perhaps, the first drama ever written with a homosexual hero. Edward's death with a red-hot poker thrust into his bowels had been discretely mimed behind a curtain when Harley Granville Barker played the eponymous role. We showed all, as it were, with the aid of a glowing torchlight and dim lighting.

The auditions for Gaveston, Edward's lover, were conducted at Hampstead Theatre Club in London, where actors were asked to kiss me. I still recall the first softness of James Laurenson's lips, which was a bonus throughout the run. At the Edinburgh Festival, the late Councillor John Kidd took offence to this show of male affection, particularly as it took place on a stage erected within the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland. The local watch committee sent along a couple of policeman who reported "no problem" and the fuss guaranteed full houses for the run and the subsequent tour in which Marlowe played in repertoire with Shakespeare. Dame Sybil Thorndyke attended a matinee and I asked her had she seen Granville Barker as Edward. "Ah no — that would be in the 1920s when I was touring Shakespeare across the USA with Ben Greet." She said that they had played just one afternoon performance in Hollywood, then a settlement so small, that they moved on to play elsewhere the same evening. [Editor's note: Granville-Barker's Edward was in 1903.]

The arc of Edward's progression is as simple and strong as Marlowe's language. He starts as a lovelorn youth. His passions are thwarted by his advisers, on whom he turns his anger and growing strength. By the climax of the play he is a full-blown tyrant. I emphasised all this by ageing through make-up and false beard. — Ian McKellen, May 2003
Comments and Reviews
In repertory with Richard II
28 August 1969: Assembly Hall, Edinburgh International Festival
23 September-11 October 1969: Mermaid, London
20-25 October 1969 (EDWARD II only): Arts, Cambridge
27 October-1 November 1969 (EDWARD II only): Nuffield, Southampton
3-8 November 1969:New, Cardiff
10-15 November 1969: Grand, Leeds
17-29 November 1969: Alexandra, Birmingham
19 January-21 March 1970: Piccadilly, London (Recorded for BBC Two television)

"McKellen and Director Toby Robertson have confronted with stark candor the fact that Edward II is a play by a homosexual about a king who was a homosexual who indeed ruined himself for an infatuation. The sum is a better play about that too-fashionable subject than anything overt or covert recently on or off Broadway. It is sensuous, unpleasant, funny, guilt-obsessed, and intensely masculine." Time Magazine, September 19, 1969

Banner Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images



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