It is lucky they gave a warning, otherwise I would have found myself rather shocked. Lord Arthur's Bed, a play about the lives and trials of Ernest Boulton, Frederick Park and Lord Arthur Clinton MP, Gay men of the 19th century, is rather graphic. Not only do we get full on male nudity, but foe sex, many references to sodomy, shafts, bursting pearly seas (their words not mine) and many other things far too rude to mention.
Not a play for the prude then; but very interesting and refreshing for its natural and unshrinking portrayal of Gay love. Lord Arthur’s Bed is not attempting to shock, rather tell a historical story in all its truth and performed in the Lowry’s Studio, a small and intimate space, the experience felt all the more bare and, well, naked.
The story of Ernest (Stella) and Frederick (Fanny), 19th century transvestites accused of ‘abusing gentlemanly behavior’ and performing ‘unnatural offences’, is told by a present day (fictional) Gay couple – Donald and Jim. It is portrayed as an important turn in the history of homophobic behavior. One of the first trials where publicly being Gay was proclaimed wrong and an offence to the decency of society. The legacy of this homophobia we see negatively affecting Donald and Jim’s relationship. The deeper into the trail the plot gets, the angrier, insure and depressed Jim gets. He talks of the shame he experiences in his desires, how sordid society makes his natural emotions feel and the image of his mothers face when he told her of his civil partnership. It is a play about the power of sex within society, of prejudice and love. How people who are brave enough to outwardly be themselves, are often punished and have been throughout history; especially for being homosexual.
Several things niggled at my satisfaction, which is a shame considering overall it was a tight, successful and engaging performance. The bickering of Donald and Jim got repetitive and rarely developed, the set (consisting of a double bed) was cheap and lacking impact or aesthetics, while the acting at times fell flat or over exaggerated. But these did not ruin a very entertaining and thought provoking evening. As the rather camp Lord Arthur Clinton would have declared – Very well done indeed.
Lord Arthur's Bed in on at The Lowry Theatre on the 11th and 12th of September