EDWARD II, By Christopher Marlowe, Octagon Theatre, Bolton
To begin at the end: this is a poker-free Edward. Instead of a gruesome phallic murder, Lawrence Till and Kate Raper's production ends in a Liebestod, a loving dance of death. It's the boldest feature of the evening, achieved by casting Joseph Jones both as Gaveston, Edward's lover who is reviled by the establishment (cue programme notes on Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, plus Charles and Diana), and the king's murderer Lightborn.
Designer Es Devlin is one of three winners of the prestigious Linbury stage design award with her Edward set. Her initial idea, an instinctive reaction to the text, was a black man in water. Showers abound; Edward welcomes Gaveston, following their kisses and cuddles, by a chance to freshen up in a shower (and dry off draped in a union flag). What starts as sensuous pleasure becomes corrupted by the power-hungry and water becomes a means of torture. Edward dunks Lancaster and Warwick before shooting them and finally realises he is to die when, in a reversal of his opening hospitality, GavestonLightborn washes the muck off the royal torso.
Colour - and lack of it - is also important in Devlin's designs. The Octagon's floor and balcony are fully used in a neutral setting that suggests a disused industrial site, with fire hose and power switches, while also having a more ambiguous sense of menace and impersonality.
Within this lies the pleasure dome where Edward and his loves disport. Their world is created mainly by costume: Edward's rich red robe and the bright colours of Gaveston and his later love Spencer (a fine, tough performance by Jeremy Turner-Welch). Greens run across their costumes, picking out the water theme, and contrasting the drab suits and uniforms worn by the Lords, who perenially overlook and disturb this playboy king.
The irresponsibility of this playboy king is mirrored in what Devlin calls the childish, Legoland colours she associates with him. Panes of broken glass hang over the stage, suggesting either a pleasure-penthouse or a threatening basement, depending upon how windows and floor are lit, and following the text's idea of rising to fall. And when Edward and Gaveston's sensual opening, intertwining dance is reprised in their loving death-dance, the lovers' bodies lying finally under gently falling red snow, the provoking ambiguities of both set and production reach a climax.
To May 25. Runs 2 hours 25 minutes. Tickets: 01204 520661 The Linbury Prize is open to final-year graduate and post-graduate students on leading art and design courses. Details: 0171 221 7883