BWW Reviews: THE RAPE OF LUCRECE, Queen Elizabeth Hall, July 9 2014

BWW Reviews: THE RAPE OF LUCRECE, Queen Elizabeth Hall, July 9 2014

Camille O'Sullivan tells the story of Lucrece, the subject of Shakespeare's epic poem and the woman who - through no fault of her own - instigated the revolution that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic. This is no straight account - O'Sullivan becomes first Tarquin and then his victim, the eponymous Lucrece, the switch from black coat to white dress signifying the shift from evil to good.

It's powerful stuff of course. Tarquin's passion is fired by Collatinus's boasts of his wife's chastity and beauty, but that passion, after enough hesitation to show that the royal soldier is not a complete psychopath, eventually metastasises into a mad violence that destroys both of them - and the kingdom.

O'Sullivan, supported by the piano and original music of Feargal Murray, captures the growing fear, the all-consuming terror and the suffocating shame that Tarquin's brutality unleashes. Her voice soars and dips in songs that punctuate Shakespeare's verse, her body writhes and withers as Lucrece realises that her violation can only be settled with her life and, once she accepts her fate, O'Sullivan's stillness reveals Lucrece's clarity of thought, as she ruthlessly seals Tarquin's fate in a letter to her husband.

It's a show that pays due honour both to its source material and to the women who, even today, are crushed by the combinaton of a man's nihilstic selfishness and a society's unforgiving attitude to rape. At 80 minutes or so all-through, it's not a gentle ride, but the contrast between Tarquin and Lucrece and how that contrast is represented through verse, music and movement, is rewarding. The venue is probably a little too large for what is a one woman show, but sit near the front and be prepared to be drawn into a hellish tale of virtue and vice, a tale that has played out many times in the past and will play out, alas, many times in the future and you'll be left exhausted but fulfilled by one of The Bard's less well-known works.

The Rape of Lucrece continues until 12 July.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor Gary Naylor is chief reviewer for and feels privileged to see so much of London's theatre. He writes about cricket at and also (read more...)

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