The trial for buggery of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two young men who liked to dress in drag and lived with Tory MP Lord Arthur Clinton was, according to writer/director Martin Lewton, as big a scandal in its day as that of Oscar Wilde, but has since been overshadowed by that trial and all but forgotten. On the evidence of Lord Arthur's Bed this may be because not much actually happened, and Lewton has to pad out the story with a framing device of a modern-day gay couple. Donald (Spencer Charles Noll) and Jim (Ruaraidh Murray) have been civil partnered for a year and are having problems. Now living in a building that was once Lord Arthur's home, they decide to enact his story to the audience because this will, for reasons unknown, apparently help their relationship.
What there is of the historical story is well-done by the actors, with the two of them playing a variety of roles, although at times Murray is required to go through so many accents so quickly it's hard to know who he's playing at any given time, and you don't feel as if you've learned much about the characters. Even more of a problem is the modern-day couple. Lewton's intention is presumably to say that even today gay people still face problems, but since this is almost entirely framed within Jim's insecurities there's no real feeling of it applying to gay people as a whole. In fact the relationship makes no sense - did they get civil partnered five minutes after meeting? They don't seem to know anything about each other. So bleak do the prospects for gay relationships seem that I wondered if it had been written by Jan Moir. The two actors try their best but at times I just ended up feeling sorry for them, especially Murray who every so often has to interrupt the action and deliver a self-loathing monologue ("I want to be different. I don't want to be different. I want to forget. I don't want to forget. I want some cake. I don't want cake." I may be making one of those up) whose point seems to be to sound as if it's profound without containing any actual profundity.
Redheaded Scot Ruaraidh Murray is at least easy on the eye, and each actor gets a(all-too-brief in Murray's case) but there's only so much that eye-candy can salvage. Towards the end of the play Don lambasts Jim for not caring about these figures from gay history; it's a shame the author didn't take this advice, and care a bit more about the characters whose story he was supposedly telling.
Lord Arthur's Bed by Martin Lewton is booking until the 28th of March at the King's Head Theatre.