Writer: Tristan Bernays
Director: Eleanor Rhode
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
“We will win back this land” chant Boudica and her allies as they prepare to march on London, razing Camulodunum (Colchester) to the ground on the way, and it’s hard not to get swept away in this heady patriotism currently being played out at The Globe.
What little we know of Boudica and her war against the Romans, who governed Britain from 43 to 410 AD, comes from Roman texts and these weren’t discovered until the 16th Century. First portrayed as a savage, she was reinvented as a heroine for Victorian Britain and its sprawling Empire. With Britain recently reclaiming its sovereignty from Brussels, it’s a perfect time to reassess the story of Boudica and her Iceni tribe as they battle against foreign rule, foreign laws and foreign taxes. It’s not for nothing that Theresa May is often dubbed the ‘Boudica of Brexit’.
Gina McKee’s Boudica is strong and stately, a demagogue warrior, and when she is on stage alone, she’s a formidable presence, and her speeches fill the Globe with energy. McKee would make a good politician; so persuasive are her powers that most of the groundlings would have happily joined her army. She’s supported by an excellent cast, particularly Natalie Simpson and Joan Iyiola, who play Boudica’s daughters, Blodwynn and Alonna, and Clifford Samuel, the Roman Governor Suetonius, who becomes Boudica’s unseen enemy.
A good deal of Tristan Bernay’s pacey script is in iambic pentameter, and so fits perfectly at the Globe, and the narrative also seems Shakespearian as allies bicker and siblings fight in the face of hollow victories. Bernay’s earlier play Teddy, about the Teddy Boys and Girls of the 1950s, was written in rhyming verse, but Shakespearian meter suits him better; it is more expansive and gives his finely-drawn characters more space and more depth, especially in the second half when belligerence gives way to reflection.
At first, this move from flag-waving war cries to expositions of peace brokering is a little disappointing, especially after Boudica’s spine-tingling rhetoric. Daughter Allona wants to sue for peace as she comes to understand that Britain’s governors may have a place, after all, in the nation; in modern times she probably would be seen as a ‘Remainer’. Spoilsport, she may be, but Alonna’s resolve to find a peaceful solution, coupled with her attention to the future, adds a richer texture and this play may have drowned in its own jingoism without it. As she says, ‘I am sick with vengeance.’
Boudica is the last play at The Globe with Emma Rice at the helm, and it’s the perfect production for her swansong, a strong woman taking on those who don’t quite understand her methods. Rice and Boudica’s director, Eleanor Rhode, have garnered a strong talent for the Globe’s last play of the season. The set – portable planks that double as walls and trees – is designed by Tom Piper, best known for creating Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London in 2014, and Kneehigh’s Malcolm Rippeth’s light design is thrilling and vibrant, the back of the stage often glowing with primary colours. For occasional speeches, it seems that some actors have microphones, and it will be interesting to see how the Globe fares when it goes back-to-basics next year under the leadership of Michelle Terry.
Although this rousing play only runs until the end of the month, it deserves a quick transfer for all of its cast and creatives. The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen!
Runs until 1 October 2017 | Image: Steve Tanner