Earlier this summer I attended a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe. You can find my review here, although traditionalists of Shakespeare met the performance with raised eyebrows I thought it was entertaining, well-acted and thoroughly enjoyable. A few weeks ago, I watched Boudica also being performed at Shakespeare’s Globe. Although Boudica isn’t a Shakespearian play, (it was written by Tristan Bernays) it is certainly in the style of the Bard. How does it compare to the star – crossed lovers?
Although the story of Boudica isn’t as well-known as Romeo and Juliet it has the same twists and turns as a Shakespearian tale. Boudica was the wife of King Prasutagus ruler of the Iceni tribe, who lived in Roman Britain. When King Prasutagus died, his will declared that Boudica would inherit his lands, was ignored by the Romans. Boudica was beaten and her daughters raped in front of her. In revenge Boudica united the tribes of Britain to create an army of 100,000 against the Roman rulers. Boudica’s army destroyed the Roman capital of Britain, (modern day Colchester), destroyed Londinium (modern day London) and were then defeated at The Battle of Watling Street. All of our information on Boudica and her rebellion are from either archaeological digs or Roman reports. To coin the old saying “history is written by the victors” and the myth of Boudica is shrouded with mystery. We don’t know where Watling Street is or where Boudica is buried. Her story was lost to time until she was rediscovered in the Medieval era but her tale gained popularity in the Victorian era. (The rumor that Boudica is buried between platforms 9-10 at King’s Cross is unfounded. Although King’s Cross was once called Battle Bridge it has no links to Boudica.)
Onto the show itself. The play was written by Tristan Bernays, directed by Eleanor Rhode and stars Gina McKee as Boudica. I remember that one of my English teachers said you can’t fully appreciate a play by simply reading it, you need to see it performed. I brought the script for Boudica after the performance and was surprised by how vastly it differed to what I had recently seen. For example a good two minute fight scene between a tribe leader and four Roman solders is simply written as “He manages to kill some Romans” As a writer it’s really fascinating to see how much of what is in the script makes it to the stage and where the script deviates from the finished production. It goes without saying that all of the cast members were fantastic and the plot threads were weaved together masterfully. There are several strong messages in the play but the most prominate one is feminism. Here is Tristan’s introduction to the script.
This play is dedicated to women everywhere – now more than ever.
– Tristan Bernays
You could argue that the play does pander to modern audiences. As Boudica’s army march to London the cast burst into song and sing London Calling. The show also finishes with the cast singing I fought the Law and the Law Won. (Both songs are by the clash and interestingly many of Shakespeare’s plays would end in a song or a dance. Even tragedies like Romeo and Juliet would have a sing-a-long at the end to boost the audience’s spirits.) Personality I don’t have a problem with this. Another complaint people had with the performance was abseiling and zip-wiring. During the battle scenes the rebels would breach the city walls and this was represented by the rebels zip-wiring onto the stage, behind the Roman soldiers. When the Roman soldiers are searching for Boudica in the forest after the final battle they abseil down the side of the theatre like a SWAT team. The only issue I had was the airplanes flying overhead but unless the Globe have the power to shut down airports, I don’t think there’s a lot they can do about that. I noticed two moments where actors fluffed up their lines. The first was at the start of the play when a Roman soldier stuttered ( to be fair it was a Roman name he was trying to say). The second was a fight scene between two of Boudica’s daughters. One daughter accidentally punched the other in the face which caused a very real nosebleed. In both cases the actors recovered quickly and styled it out.
In short is Boudica worth the five star reviews it is receiving?
The author, Tristan Bernays has his own website here:
You can also tweet him at @tristanbernays
Shakespeare’s Globe can be found @The_Globe and if you’ve been Boudica and want to share your thoughts by using the hashtag #boudica.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.