This intense adaptation by Timberlake Wertenbaker and directed by Arti Banerjee explores a dictator’s rise to power and the intense jealousy that bubbles in those that seemingly have the love of a nation but no genuine love around them. This is the inciting fire for Nero to punish his brother Britannicus by demanding his love Junia for his own, in hopes that it’ll settle that lacking inside him and banish any enemies that threaten his position on the throne. However, with this tragedy you get a real inside of Nero’s vulnerability towards his mother and how her passiveness has affected how he loves other people, a man who is the most powerful leader in the world seeking only the approval of his mother and in not getting it, turns to resentment and devastation onto others.
Nero played fantastically by William Robinson carries this play effortlessly and skilfully, charming the audience enough to shock us at his downfall and really mourn his opportunity to make good but resists it. Opposite to him, Britannicus performed by Nathaniel Curtis leads with his love and passion only for Junia and asks for nothing more than to live happily with her. Following closely behind is the mother of the crown Agrippina (Sirine Saba) who manipulates both boys and ultimately winning the most power for Nero and by default herself. Only when Nero grows suspicious of her meddling does her true colours show through inner rage presenting her own downfall of her plans that begun well before Nero was born.
This production is translated and adapted well making it very clear and very relevant to now however I did struggle to understand where and when we were although described as ‘Modern Rome’. The costuming was confusing having two characters dressed in ancient dresses and the rest in bright white tracksuits or suits which left me quite jarred by why Junia would be wearing a red ballgown if we are setting in a modern time frame.
I thought it had a perfect amount of fantastical elements from the large painting scaling the back wall to the erratic movements and the actors relationship to the set and props which was stunning choreography which elevated the piece massively. Also, Hanna Khogali playing Albine who was often like a fly on the wall to the upcoming drama underscoring throughout with their Violin and voice gave a fantastic and emotive element to Nero’s downfall.
Overall, I enjoyed this piece thoroughly and was truly blown away by the actor’s grasp on the language finding the humour as easily as finding the tragedy. In the climate in which we currently live, a political play will always reflect in some ways how we view leaders today and I would be interested to hear why Britannicus was chosen for this season and what it reflects about our own state today.
Playing until 25th June, more information and tickets can be found at https://lyric.co.uk/shows/britannicus/
Reviewer: Alice Rose
Reviewed: 1st June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★