Emma Rice’s tenure at Shakespeare's Globe has brought some truly unique productions to this historic stage; Boudica is no less than it’s predecessors delivering this epic tale of the Iceni warrior Queen’s quest for vengeance. Tristan Bernays’ writing married with Eleanor Rodes direction depicts an England ruled by the enveloping Roman Empire. Boudica, rightful owner of the land, seeks to reclaim what was promised to her family upon her late husbands death. Boudica is betrayed by the conniving Roman imperial Catus, who orders her daughters Blodwyne and Alonna to be raped and the queen whipped for her defiance. The defiling of her family and land sets the Queen on her path of vengeance against those whom wronged her. The tone is similar to that of George R. Martins a Game of Thrones with Boudica calling on her native allies, King Badvoc and Cunobeline, to fight with her against the foreign invaders. All the while, the action is driven by a tense drum beat underpinning an inevitable call to arms. Before the end of the first act, when the stalwart Gina Mckee as Boudica looks to the audience to join her in the fight, the gravity of their situation palpably draws us into battle.
The antithesis of the looming battle against the clash of morals between the sisters makes for a scintillating first half that almost arouses an ovation from the crowd. Such was the magnetism of the actors with all characters neatly fleshed out. Bernays’ text ambitiously plays homage to the iambic rhythm of Shakespeare’s verse while interspersed with coarse juvenile exchanges between the bemoaning Roman guards, with adequate room for more than one ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ pun. At times the language feels uncomfortable, when Boudica so earnest and poetic would jump to calling her compatriots ‘useless pieces of shit’ which doesn’t always land successfully. However, in an ultimately tragic story where not many come out alive, no characters death went without a fleeting moments mourning, before the drums sounds again and the play races on. The battles between the Queens heir’s Alonna and Blodwynne played by Natalie Simpson and Joan Iyiola beautifully highlight the facing of opposing morals. Blodwynne is forced to question the true nature of her violent tendencies by her sister, which is delicately played by Simpson, who cannot empathise with the immigrants she deems responsible for her misfortune. This lack of empathy resonates with today's climate with chimes of Brexit’s controversy rung throughout.
There is a stellar support for Mckee, who exudes a haunting grit as Queen Boudica. The imposing Belgic King Badvoc played by Abraham Popoola and his almost complete physical opposite Samuel Collings playing a slithering Catus Deciamus, shine in their respective roles. Boudica is a production that’s ambition is not wholly met with the precision required to make it a true classic, yet does entertain expertly and gives a shining display of the strength and tenacity within women, in which theatre can never have too much of. - Patrick Riley