Britannicus by Jean Racine translated and adpated by Timberlake Wertenbaker. The Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith to 25 Hune 2022. 3***. William Russell.

Timberlake Wertenbaker has come up with a fine version of Racine’s play but she is let down partly by some of the cast, including a distinctly underwhelm Nathaniel Curtis in the title role, and by a production by director Atri Banerjee which is totally misconceived. Heaven knows why the cast appear as robotic figures twitching mechanically before things begin, just why Albina (Hanna Khogali)sets the scene with a sinister scraping on the violin, and as for what purpose the water cooler the appears at one side of the stage serves is anybody’s guess/ If it is to refresh the cast they would have been better advised to head into the wings. There are also a lot of chairs which people sit on, knock over, stand on and which get shifted all over the place while at the back of the fairly naked stage hangs an arras which one knows is going to be ripped down to expose some message of significance and it duly happens. The words are fine, William Robinson in tight white clothes is an impressively nasty Nero who at first seems quite a nice young man, although he is not enough to carry the evening on his own, and Sirine Saba delivers a powerful Agrippina, the evening’s best performance, as a mother discovering her son is even worse than she is. Power has shifted from her to him and there is nothing she can do about it. The evening, there is no interval, passes well enoughon the strength of the text but Nathaniel Curtis’s gangling Britannicus never holds the stage and his scenes with Junia, played by Shyvonne Ahmmad, make one long for a hole into which he can sink or a box onto which she can climb. He is immensely tall, she is tiny and as a combination of lovers separated by nasty Nero they simply do not work. Which leaves Wurntenbaker’s fine words up there with only really Sirine Saba’s magnificent Agrippina and sidekicks Narcissus (Nigel Barret) and Burrhus (Helena Lymbery) to carry this tale of a rampant tyrant setting about destroying all around. Banerjee has a lot to answer for.

Junia: Shyvonne Ahmmad.
Narcissus:L Nigel Barrett.
Britannucys: Nathaniel Curtis.
Albina: Hanna Khogali.
Burrhus: helebna Lymberry.
Nero: William Robinson.
Agripina: Sirine Saba.

Director: Atri Banerjee.
Set & Costume Design: Rosanna Vize.
Lighting Design: Kee Curran.
Composition & Sound Design: Jasmin Kent Rodgman,
Movement Direction. Jennifer Jackson.
Production photograph of Sirine Saba: March Brenner

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