by Jean Racine translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker.
Wilton’s Music Hall Graces Alley off Ensign Street E1 8JB To 19 November.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm no performance 8, 17 Nov.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7702 2789.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 October.
Successfully combines Racine’s speeches with a sense of urgent action.
Drawing on Roman history, Racine’s Britannicus is a dynastic power-play filled with political duplicity. Innocence has no chance in a world where the tone is set by Sian Thomas’s dressed-to-kill, plotting-to-rule Agrippina: a power not very far behind the throne.
She’s dispossessed Britannicus to make his half-brother Nero emperor. But he’s becoming an unpredictable dictator, while Britannicus wants only to be with Junia. There’s an honest and a duplicitous advisor in Burrhus and Narcissus, but no easy way for unsophisticated political minds to tell honest counsel from fatal entrapment.
Steering between French classical formality and the English desire to have things happening on stage, director Irina Brown cuts through stylistic questions by reconfiguring Wilton’s auditorium, with the aid of designer Chloe Lamford. Brown’s production plays on an open space, the sense of childishness among the great, and a reminder how near childhood some of them are, suggested constantly by the junk-like playroom glimpsed behind, with rocking-horse, bath and target, while a gallery above allows entries at a run, matching the sweeping-on at ground-level, to create a sense of urgency.
Lamford surrounds the stage with translucent plastic curtains, creating a palace where anything might be – and sometimes is – overseen or heard, in a treacherous world where Matthew Needham shows the emperor’s dangerous edge emerging ever-sharper, metaphorically and literally poisonous. His dangerous playfulness disguises his plans and disconcerts others.
Certainly, Alexander Vlahos’s Britannicus is no match for him, and hardly appears fit for imperial power had it come his way, seeming more comfortable as lover of Hari Yannas’s Junia, a portrait of virtue in a scheming maze.
Akuwudike, as the increasingly troubled conscience of the drama, Christopher Colquhoun as Britannicus’ apparent mentor and Zoë Aldrich as Agrippina’s servant, each contributes to this frenzied world. At its centre is Thomas’ Agrippina, calculating, commanding in manner, her dignified attire that of someone used to authority, signified by the long, bright red dress worn at her central confrontation with the emperor.
This is a production where space, pace and high-voltage production combine to cut to the play’s core and reveal its tensions in full.
Agrippina: Sian Thomas.
Albine: Zoë Aldrich.
Burrhus: Jude Akuwudike.
Britannicus: Alexander Vlahos.
Narcissus: Christopher Colquhoun.
Nero: Matthew Needham.
Junia: Hara Yannas.
Director: Irina Brown.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Lighting: Simon Mills.
Sound: Paul Kisintas.
Composer: Sarah Llewellyn.
Movement: Marcin Rudy.
Voice work: Barbara Houseman.
Assistant director: John Walton.