Lord Arthur's Bed
Kings Head Theatre
Lord Arthur's Bed interweaves the tale of a modern gay couple and the historical court case of Victorian cross dressers who lived in the same house over a hundred years previously. When celebrating their civil partnership Donald (Spencer Charles Noll) and Jim (Ruaraidh Murray) find a calling card underneath the floorboards and Jim begins researching the history of 'Lady Clinton'.
'Lady Clinton', it turns out, is in fact Ernest Boulton who lived with Lord Arthur (passing himself off as his wife) and a wealth of information is uncovered about 'Stella Clinton' and 'her' friend 'Fanny' - Frederick Park. The true story of this infamous pair is largely forgotten and overshadowed by the trial of Oscar Wilde a further 25 years later. They caused a massive scandal when brought to trial for sodomy in 1870 however, and were tried before the Lord Chief Justice of England himself.
To work all of their research out of their systems and attempt to heal some of the cracks in their own relationship, the modern pair act out (treating the audience as a webcam) the story of Stella and Fanny right up to the conclusion of the trial.
With minimal additions to their own modern day costumes and only a double bed and a chair as set this production is an excellent example that the power of imagination and good storytelling can overcome production values. However, not all of the storytelling in this piece is effective. The pace really begins to pick up when Noll and Murray begin to play all of the characters from the lives of Fanny and Stella, including the witnesses at their trial and various police officers and judges. Noll in particular excels in creating small character roles and portrays Stella with great depth and sensitivity. This would have been a role easy to play as a cheap caricature but he refrains from such although does include some wonderfully comic touches.
Murray similarly throws himself into the challenge of different characters but it the central role of modern day Jim which is not quite so convincing. In fact, whilst the conceit of framing the story through the contemporary is theoretically sound, the characters of Jim and Donald are underdeveloped to a point that we feel more concern for their acting creations.
This is a thought provoking, quirky and occasionally laugh-out-loud show with moments of excellence. Whilst the script is uneven in places the performers make up for its deficiencies, demonstrating their versatility and telling a story from the past perhaps worthy of single attention.
Until 28th March
Reviewer: Amy Yorston