Shakespeare’s Globe (venue)
13 September 2017 (released)
19 September 2017
Most of us think of Boudica on a chariot, red hair streaming behind her as she drives the Romans from England. Given that there is fairly little history amongst the many myths, Tristan Bernays had a great deal of freedom to invent for the Globe’s new production. In fact he described writing Boudica as a ‘bit like writing Game of Thrones.’ There’s no doubt it’s an action packed show that’s likely to be hugely popular for all the right reasons.
Set in AD61 with suitably rousing drumming from Calie Hough and masterful fight direction from Rachel Bown-Williams & Ruth Cooper-Brown, it’s a high octane night of theatre with some brutal touches. A tortured druid spent an entire scene hung from his feet. Yet Gina McKee’s plays Boudica with quiet authority and psychological realism despite the savagery.
Boudica was known to have had two daughters, probably raped by the Romans and this is where Bernays drama begins. ‘Speak not of shame but flex thy tongue like bows’ she tells them. Their brutal rape, along with the Romans stealing the money owed to her after her husbands death is the driving force of her campaign. Her two daughters played by Natalie Simpson (Blodwynn) and Joan Iyiola (Alonna) respond to the trauma in opposite ways, Blodwynn becoming ever more savage, and her sister retreating from violence and oppression.
Bernays borrows a great deal from Shakespeare, both in terms of story, structure and language. Sometimes slipping into iambic pentameter, at other times contriving a very funny pastiche littered with curses, the characters slip seamlessly in and out of linguistic forms. ‘ Sweet Pluto’s arsehole, this fucking island…’ moans one of the Roman soldiers to his buddy as they complain about the weather, food and women in England. Equally entertaining is the camp procurator played by Samuel Collings, who swans in, dressed in gold brocade and flippy scarf before turning out to be utterly brutal.
It's a play that couldn't have been written at any other time. In the first half, Rome’s occupation of England has frightening resonances of the contemporary occupation of Syria by the Islamic state. By the second act when Boudica has defeated city after city, murdering Romans and children of Romans, issues around immigration and Brexit seem to resonate.
Eleanor Rhode’s direction is unfaltering. The only possibly complaint is that it’s such a thrilling first half that it’s hard to keep up that level of excitement by the second.. Despite kicking of with an entertaining rendition of London Calling (The Clash) it had less humour and felt slightly flat by comparison. But this is a great piece of theatre from the Globe, not to be missed.