After Edward blog – part 1, Shame.

Assistant Director, George Nichols, shares the processes and ideas behind two plays performing in tandem this winter

‘You can marry, you can adopt, you can say you’re gay in the workplace, but what about the things we haven’t had to time to deal with? The insidious things like shame that affect us silently every day?’

— George Nichols

After Edward is a new play, written by Tom Stuart (who will be playing Edward) and will be performed in tandem with Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

It’s the first week of rehearsals for a cast that will run across both productions. We’re talking a lot about the relationship between Tom’s play and Marlowe’s and what unites them across a void of 400 years and what makes them so important for audiences today.

Some background. Edward II, the central character of Marlowe’s play, has a same-sex romantic relationship with, among others, Piers Gaveston. It’s an amazing play, not least for what it tells about gender and sexuality in the Renaissance period in which the play was written, and the earlier 14th century when the play was set. A big question we’re grappling with this week is what connects the experiences of Edward II, Marlowe and a gay man living in the modern era?

Each of these different periods has a vastly different perspective on gender and sexuality (something we’ll cover in the next blog) and so each of these people will have had a vastly different experience. In fact, in the era the play was written people weren’t labeled because of the acts they committed; all people were considered capable of all things and so an act didn’t define an individual. Yet one thing that remains true across the last 700 years is that at no point has the preference for same-sex relationships been a societal norm. Whether homosexuality has been accepted, tolerated, persecuted or hidden the society we live in has primarily been designed with white heterosexual men in mind.

The effect that living up to a hetero-normative ideal has on the individual that doesn’t fit is something that resonates throughout these plays. That effect is, among other things, shame.

We’re fortunate that our company is made up of people with different personal perspectives on gender and sexuality. At some point though, we can all attest to having felt shame of some kind at being unable to live up to an ideal that is thrust upon us.

Despite the progress that can be said to have been made in the 21st century, for the plethora of people who do not identify with heterosexual ‘norms’ it can be impossible to see oneself in the surrounding cultural and social environment. Just think of something like the couplings on Strictly Come Dancing or the way the sex education in schools is almost entirely based around the heterosexual experience. Not seeing yourself in the world can have the impact of making you feel that the life you want to live is not only abnormal but wrong.

Later in the week, we talk to Dr. Will Tosh from the Globe’s Research Department about how some productions eschew the homosexuality within Edward II entirely and make Gaveston and Edward’s relationship platonic. We agree this is a shame. One of the great connections we have found with both Edward II and After Edward is how important they both are for allowing people to see themselves in the culture around them. As one of the company says, with regards to their first reading of After Edward: ‘I wish I had seen this play when I was growing up’.

Tom began this week by telling us a story of him standing in Berkley Castle, where Edward II was executed, and looking around and thinking ‘this is where it happened, this is where he was, he would have seen this light and felt this darkness’. In After Edward, the characters often come back to the idea that they are just one part of a long and never-ending line; from the pornographic petroglyphs unearthed by archaeologists to Edward II himself. In the modern world, we live in it is important that these lives and stories are shared and celebrated, and that we make the world a place where no one feels shame for who they are or the life they lead. It’s essential that this belief is a guiding principle of the work we create and the culture we share. ⭕


Edward II, written by Christopher Marlowe will be directed by Nick Bagnall. After Edward, a contemporary response to Marlowe’s piece was written by Tom Stuart and will be directed by Brendan O’Hea. Tom will play Edward in both productions. The cast will be the same for both plays. Discover more →