The Summer of Love season at Shakespeare’s Globe ends in spectacular style with a story of rape, pillage and torture. I’m beginning to wonder about Emma Rice’s definition of “love.”
But there’s no denying the season goes out with a bang. There are quite a few liberties, and one or two totally surreal moments, but Tristan Bernays’ thrilling Boudica, is a real crowd-pleaser.
It’s Game of Thrones meets Red Sonja, with a bit of Wonder Woman thrown in, and let’s not forget the actual history element.
Boudica (known as Boadicea when I was in school) is, arguably, our only female folk hero yet she’s barely had a mention on film or stage – although I understand a certain Mr William Shakespeare did produce a little something on the subject.
Bernays wanted spectacle and emerging director Eleanor Rhode delivers in a style very much in accord with the Globe’s soon-to-depart, artistic director, Emma Rice.
The cast are miked up, the tribal drumming is at full volume, and Malcolm Rippeth’s superb lighting design goes into overdrive, particularly when the rebel hordes launch a full scale attack on the token forces of the occupying Roman army.
There’s even a rousing sing-a-long giving Forbes Masson an opportunity to play Ye Olde, Ancient British, pop star.
The random appearance of a helicopter pilot threw me a bit at last night’s opening but she seemed to be right at home in this inventive and very original production.
Gina McKee wields the sword of vengeance in this historical epic, tucking her widows weeds into her waistband, slapping on the woad, and going to war to reclaim her heritage.
Set during the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, its invasion force are vocal in wishing they were in warmer climes (don’t we all) where the food is better, the sun shines and the locals are friendly.
The banter from a comedy trio of Centurions, complete with a surprisingly modern selection of expletives, provides occasional moments of lightness in this dark and bloody tale.
Boudica’s “Client King” husband, who sold his soul to the invading Roman army, has died and she wants to claim half of his lands and estates, as inheritance for her two daughters, the hot-headed Blodwynn (Natalie Simpson) and more thoughtful and compassionate Alonna (Joan Iyiola).
If you remember your history you’ll know that this doesn’t end well. Boudica is stripped and flogged while her two young daughters are gang raped by the garrison.
Hell bent on revenge, she entreats help from Britain’s other savage tribes to mount an army and reclaim the land, cutting a swathe through Colchester, St Albans and, finally, London.
At last, women actors are given an opportunity to play with swords and kick ass and they do a damn fine job.
McKee’s savage assault on the tongue of one soldier, blood and gore splattering the nearest groundlings in the Globe audience pit, is quite stomach-churning.
Her youngest daughter, played with passion by Simpson, is consumed with blood-lust following her attack, and also takes a murderous revenge.
Although the playwright hasn’t intended it, there is a political message in the story, but it doesn’t overshadow the pulsating drama of the piece.
Abraham Popoola, looking splendidly intimidating as tribal king, Badvoc, and scares the hell out of the rest of the ensemble by whirling around with an axe in his outstretched arms.
Forbes Masson, is engaging as neighbouring king, Cunobeline, who acts as mediator and fixer in a bid to create unite front against the Italians.
The action frequently spills out into the audience both on the ground and up in the balconies. Soldiers abseil down into the auditorium, actors secrete themselves in the stalls and another is lowered through the theatre canopy roof.
The first act finale is impressively staged with the wood planking, that forms the backcloth, collapsing to reveal the mighty barbarian army chomping at the bit to get at the terrified, and hopelessly outnumbered, garrison.
The stage is bathed in a golden glow as poor Colchester goes under the torch and the scene is spectacularly accompanied by musicians Louise Anna Duggan and Calie Hough on drums.
Yes, some historians may be unhappy about modern musical interludes and soldiers dressed in tee-shirts and camouflage trousers, but Boudica offers an exhilarating and ingenious look at the country’s first feminist, a warrior queen that will delight general theatre-goers.
Boudica runs, in rep, at The Globe until October 1.
Tristan Bernays delivers an inventive and original story about Britain’s warrior queen, Boudica, which is a brutal, bold and bloody spectacle to end The Globe’s Summer of Love season.