Review: Boudica

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Boudica. It is a name which arouses images of an ancient and iconic warrior-queen, leading an inspiring and patriotic rebellion against the dominating Romans. The Durham University Classical Theatre (DUCT) and Suffragette Theatre companies collaborate to tell her tale in a performance full of heart and emotion. The combination of the classical and the modern-feminist perspectives creates a compelling and moving rendition which brings an iconic and legendary heroine back down to being as a person, woman, widow, and mother – while still in her role as the leader and rebel soldier she has been known as for millennia. 

The high point of this piece is unquestionably the acting performances.  brilliantly embodies the brooding Roman antagonist Suetonius, delivering a captivating monologue and giving the play it’s necessary brutality. The tension in the argument between himself and Archie Nolan, as procurator Catus, provides a great deal of chemistry to enthral. The main cast are occasionally flanked by an energetic and wholehearted chorus; every person on the stage is at all times dedicated to their character and to reacting to the events around them. 

But it is Boudica (April Kinder), and her daughters Alonna (Honor Calvert) and Blodwynn (Eleanor Sumner) who deliver the deeply touching emotion that is at the crux of this play. It is a very human telling of a very famous historical event, grounded in individuals and their independent problems and desires within a greater cause. Down to the sibling and parent-child arguments, each character is whole with their own flaws, emotions and motivations, which these actors remain fiercely loyal to throughout the play. 

What this production does best are the truly chilling, gut-wrenching scenes

While certain comedic moments fall flat, what this production does best are the truly chilling, gut-wrenching scenes. It is extremely difficult to watch both Boudica and her daughters’ intense and effective performances of their capture and assault, and the emotional changes it brings within the characters.

While there is violence on both ends, the play is English-sided. The cruelty of the Romans – who effectively represent the patriarchy – contrasts the robust and earnest (and justified) savagery of the rebels, though this doesn’t quite explain the use of exploitative language being thrown around often and rather randomly. The frustration of the power struggle and weaponisation of gender is sincerely felt, and one must reflect on how far we have come as a society – but have we really come that far? It is interesting that the feminist themes running through this piece about a woman two thousand years ago are difficulties which female leaders still struggle with today. 

Tech is another device which is used well when used

The costumes are another highlight; in particular, those of the English rebels. Simple, but effective, they enhance the overall aura of a play being told about an ancient rebellion in a 21st century production. It is also worth commending whoever it was who found Roman soldier costumes. 

All this could be elevated by a greater use of staging and levels: much of the play is told through duologues or small group discussions, which this production continuously presents along the front of the stage. A greater awareness of stage space might prevent pacing along the same line which soon begins to feel flat and one-dimensional. When staging is implemented alongside dialogue it is generally very effective, and uplifts the play from mere storytelling, to a performance. 

Tech is another device which is used well when used, except that the highly stylised moments come too suddenly and often with what feels like no lead up. These are jarringly different to the many scenes of dialogue they come between that use little to no specific sound and lighting at all.

Overall, it is slick and well put together piece. The audience is certainly engaged, with widespread laughs at the few jests and a captivated silence as the show descends further into its dark themes; then finally, a huge round of applause at the end. If you wish to emotionally engage with age-old human atrocities, and to watch the horrific reality of a warrior-queen’s life in the first century AD, this is not something to miss. 

Image credit: DUCT and Suffragette Theatre Company

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