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Boudica - She will have blood

Boudica rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Richard Smith.

Boudica by Tristan Bernays at The Loft, Leamington Spa, 7 to 17 June.

Review by Anne Cee.

Loft Theatre Company’s searing war story had me wide eyed and white knuckled.

What dark tension spreads across smoky Britannia in 61AD when the Roman army subjugates the settled clans with bribes and brutality. Not everyone is willing to be robbed of their lands, especially not righteous Boudica (Julie Godfrey), widowed Queen of Iceni, who determines to fight for the birth right of her daughters (Rosie Pankhurst and Martha Allen-Smith) and her people.

Early scenes of soldierly banter (Jack George, Oliver Brindley, Dylan Marshall) and slightly drunken revelry lure us into the world of the Roman occupiers where the Procurator, Catus Deciamus (Joshua Smith), quickly turns from affable host into merciless menace. Violently rejecting Boudica’s demands with orders of flogging and multiple rape, Catus thus ignites the flame which causes the masses to rise up for vengeance and justice.

Image from rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Richard Smith

Boudica calls for blood. She deftly unites rival clans by bringing together the smooth talking statesman, Cunobeline (Mark Roberts) and tattooed tough guy, Badvoc (Connor Bailey) as she lobbies to take their common complaint to their Roman enemies in their own town.

And so the pressure builds, and battles rage on stage with fierce, fight choreography (Matthew Tyler) and slick handling of serious weaponry against a soundscape that could curdle milk.

Photo courtesy of Richard Smith

But it’s not all fire and pillage. The rage and the conflict is set amongst tender and poignant moments between sisters, mothers and daughters, old allies and even the scratchy distrust of women from opposing sides. These are played with sensitivity and moving subtlety – especially Rosie Pankhurst, Martha Allen-Smith and Daisy M Stone. Their portrayal of the experience, aftermath and bond of violent assault was faultless. Paul Curran as Suetonius evolved from a brusk army officer into a commanding, decisive leader until he learned of his own vulnerability and Joshua Smith showed the various shades of self-serving rationalist, Catus Deciamus. Liam James Cross does a great job in the Ensemble, especially in his most gruesome scene.

The creative and technical teams, led by Director Elizabeth Morris, did a cracking job of evoking the atmosphere of the period. Sound effects that incorporated the pure soprano of Jen Waghorn and war paint by Stevie Sinclair left a lasting impression. And the perfect blend of live action, music and theatre effects kept the plot ripping along.

Bernays’ fierce and bloody tale is beautifully written and does not shrink from the stark, confronting realities of war and identity, and the Loft Theatre Company have rallied their troops to deliver an exceptional, gripping burn of a show that would not be out of place in the most prestigious of places. On opening night, it was white hot.

Some comments from the audience: “fantastic”, “marvellous”, “savage”.

Contains strong language. Age guide 15+.

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