Britannicus Wilton’s Music Hall 14 October

Where the audience sat is now the playing area

The publicity for this show was keen to emphasise that it was one of a week or so of previews leading up to the official opening on Friday 21st.  This may mean that I ought to be silent like Junia meeting her beloved Britannicus while Nero watches from concealment, ready to have him executed if she gives him the merest sign–but I can’t see the need for such defensiveness.

I thought that this was the best play, in terms of the text that I’d seen for some time.  (The story is about how the Emperor Nero goes beyond the calculating and expedient evil of his mother Agrippina, rejects the advice of his wise consellors and becomes a monster, and it turned out to be highly effective.)  The translation seemed entirely natural, and my fears that the evening might involve characters standing motionless declaiming at each other proved entirely groundless.  The production was both simple and imaginative–as illustrated above, the theatre had been turned round so that the actors played where the audience normally sit.

At this stage of the show’s development, Matthew Needham was already very very good as Nero, a kind of nervous ill-tempered adolescent playing with the role of Emperor, and the Margaret-Thatcher-styled Agrippina of Sian Thomas showed great promise of daunting things to come.  (Those actors  who didn’t quite know all of their lines yet at this stage will know who they were.)

Definitely worth seeing once it has begun for real!

Even before noticing that director Irina Brown hailed from St Petersburg, I thought there was soomething very Russian about this show.  The scene between Junia and Britannicus under the hidden surveillance of Nero could easily be retitled ‘The fate of the creative intelligentsia under Soviet power’, and Matthew Needham had something of the gawky air (and indeed face) of Peter the Great.  But there’s more to it than that.

Update:  more about the translation here.

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