All eyes are on Emma Rice, the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, who is stepping down in the new year, and the new play under her management, Boudica, is nothing short of pure bravery- in both its content and its spirit (and in the choice of an outdoor stage in temperate, autumnal England!). Perhaps Rice has a touch of the fierce and strong-minded Boudica in her? Directed by Eleanor Rhode and written by Tristan Bernays, this is a modern-day epic history play that is not out of place in the theatre of the Bard.
On stepping inside the Globe, it is hard to miss the golden (but not garish) wooden panelling lining the back walls of the theatre. It immediately inflicts a sense of the ‘EXTRA-ness’ that runs through the play, which proves to be two and a half hours of sheer intensity.
Another thing that is felt immediately is the incredible strength of the female characters, which figures given the eponymous protagonist – the famous female warrior who rebelled against the Romans in the first century AD. History is undecided whether Boudica was a wronged woman trying to assert herself for the sake of her children, or whether she was power-hungry and a little too ruthless. The writer, Bernays, is equally undecided, giving Boudica (Gina McKee) a maternal touch as well as a fierce overpowering spirit. In an interview Bernays said he wrote the play after being touched by a female friend of his who was complaining that women never got to do the ‘fun-stuff’ on stage that men do like fighting and charging around with swords. This is his attempt to give them the chance to fight.
McKee’s performance is entrancing. When she is on stage, other characters are dulled by her presence. Self-assertive, but not loud and overbearing, the others around her, both male and female, cower to her power. Her younger daughters, Blodwynn (Natalie Simpson) and Alona (Joan Iyiola), are the ingenious artistic creations of Bernays. They allow for Boudica to show motherly care and affection, but also moments of callous brutality toward her children. This shows the difficulty she must have faced being both a mother and a warrior – not an everyday problem – but still perhaps very relatable for many women who are juggling family and professional life.
Not without its quirks, there are some epic moments of rope swinging, dancing and even a fantastic rendition of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ as the play reaches the conquest of Londinium. The choreography of this play (Tom Jackson Greaves) is also worth a kind mention. There are moments of this play that are entrancing with the rhythmic motions of the soldiers as they move about the stage, fighting or acting out a narrated tale.
If the purpose of this play is to empower women it definitely succeeded. Boudica can probably best be described as an epic-meets-Beyoncé-meets-‘Game of Thrones’, but in a good way. Full of energy, it leaves one with a strange sense of satisfaction and a feeling that the world outside is there to be met with a conquering spirit.
Boudica is playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until Sunday October 1.