BWW Review: BOUDICA, Shakespeare's Globe
The final production in this year's Summer of Love season is a brand new piece from Tristan Bernays, telling the story of the famous warrior queen. It may not fit quite so obviously into the summer's theme, but it is a welcome piece of fresh new writing that really blows any last remaining cobwebs away.
King Prasutagus has died, and the Romans have taken his lands and goods as payment for outstanding debts. Understandably this angers his widow, Boudica, who simply wants to claim what had been left to her; after her attempts to press her case, she and her daughters (Blodwynn and Alonna) are violently punished, and then sent into exile.
This affront only serves to spur Boudica on, so she gathers forces to march against the Romans and take back what is rightfully hers - potentially freeing Britain from Rome's yoke once and for all. But when Alonna starts to have doubts about their methods, the uncertainty threatens to fracture the tribes and scupper their plans.
The story of Boudica, the flame-haired warrior queen, has gone down in legend - though as there is a distinct lack of evidence available from that time in history it is difficult to be certain about details. Both of these factors make it ideal material for a new piece of work.
The theme of injustice (particularly for women) is the heartbeat of this play, although it also lends itself rather well to uncomfortable discussions about immigration and homelands. As the play goes on, you start to question your allegiances - both sides seem almost as bad as each other, just in slightly different ways.
Tristan Bernays writes with enough hints of the classics to make the play feel at home in the Globe (and to fit with its historical setting), yet it retains a sense of the modern. Bernays' words trip off the tongue, occasionally drifting into the poetic, and at other times into the coarse. Not only that but it's incredibly funny, with elements of Monty Python-esque humour running through.
It may have been written by a man, but many aspects of the production are fittingly female - from the pair of drummers up in the gallery (Louisa Anna Duggan and Calie Hough) to Eleanor Rhode's dazzling direction.
In combination with Tom Jackson Greaves' inventive choreography and dynamic fight direction from RC-Annie Ltd, Rhode has created a real visual spectacle. I don't want to give too much away, but be sure to keep an eye out for some unexpected entrances in both acts! Nearly every inch of the performance space is utilised, immersing the entire audience into Boudica's world.
Tom Piper's set design also helps in this, with three projections out from the main stage into the yard providing multiple entrance points. Piper's costumes are wonderful; there's just enough accuracy in the overall look to allow the odd anachronism in for extra effect (such as the Roman bureaucrats donning Chelsea boots). The simple colour schemes make it easy to tell the sides apart at a glance, which makes the fight sequences all the more effective.
Credit must also go to Malcolm Rippeth for his lighting design, once more providing a fantastical palette - a particular highlight in that regard has to be Boudica's death scene, the vivid colours altering seamlessly as the belladonna takes hold.
Music is also key to the production, and the drums prove to be particularly versatile instruments. They constantly evoke a sense of conflict and purpose, keeping the play running smoothly - and provide emphatic accompaniment for a couple of surprisingly apt renditions of songs by The Clash, no less!
The cast are simply superb, brimming with energy and attacking every scene with gusto. Clifford Samuel stands out as the Roman general Suetonius, delivering some very Shakespeare-like soliloquies, and Forbes Masson impresses as Cunobeline.
Natalie Simpson and Joan Iyiola are compelling as two very different sisters, both displaying a youthful physicality, though Simpson's Blodwynn takes this further than Iyiola's peacemaking Alonna.
As Boudica, Gina McKee takes to the Globe's unique performance space like a duck to water. She is instantly engaging, working with the lack of boundary between actor and audience to create a special atmosphere, leaving us hanging on her every word.
Fast, foul and funny - Boudica is definitely not one for the fainthearted! It is a refreshing piece of new writing that was absolutely made for the Globe, and plays its part in providing meatier roles for women. It is exactly the kind of brave, bold work that needs to be continually championed, especially in venues such as this.
Picture credit: Steve Tanner