Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Boudica; Ramona Tells Jim

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Boudica; Ramona Tells Jim

Article excerpt

Tristan Bernays loves Hollywood blockbusters. His new play, Boudica, is an attempt to put the blood-and-guts vibe of the action flick on the Globe's stage. The pacy plotting works well. Boudica revolts against the Romans who have stolen her kingdom. The queen is imprisoned and flogged while her two maiden daughters are savagely violated. Vowing revenge, she allies herself with the reluctant Belgics and they attack and destroy Camulodunum (Colchester).

The first half is a rip-roaring crowd-pleaser. After the interval, an anticlimax. London is sacked but the Romans cling to power and when Boudica dies, her bickering daughters fight rather tediously over the succession. What counts here are the externals: the costumes, the accents, the fights, the stunts. The legionaries sport sturdy tin helmets crested with stiff blond bristles. The Roman leaders, all misogynistic twerps, wear fussy golden dressing-gowns and all of them prattle away in sibilant Noël Coward voices. The native Brits wear linen and fur outfits suggesting a tatty, sexy Celtic elegance. Bernays fills his dialogue with Shakespeare's rhythms. 'Give me briefly the cause of this your suit?' asks an envoy. A duel on the battlefield ends with, 'Silence wretch. And die you like a man.' Boudica, whipped and bleeding, displays her wounds to her ravished daughters. 'Do not these ruby mouths across my back cry likewise what I've suffered?' She taunts her enemies to fight. 'Where are you Rome, you slouching slug-a-beds?'

Pedants like me will object to Bernays's grammar. 'We heard with woe the death of he your king.' Spot the problem? A pronoun takes an oblique case following a preposition, and the sentence quoted should end 'of him your king'. That said, the deliberate creakiness of the verbal idiom suits the play's flashy antiquarianism.

Gina McKee is near-perfect as Boudica. She has the right sort of defiant regality but her willowy figure isn't convincing. A warrior queen leading an army of barbarians needs more muscle density, more sheer skeletal thickness than this catwalk damsel can offer. Swords and pikes seem unfamiliar in her Fairy Liquid hands. She thrusts a spear through a centurion as if performing an aerobics exercise. However, her charisma is undeniable and as soon as her character dies the play's dramatic interest expires. The curtain should fall with the exit of her corpse. This is hardly a classic, but it succeeds on its own terms by replicating the kind of gory thriller beloved of the groundlings in Shakespeare's day. …

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