Jean Racine (1639-1699), the great French playwright, the leading tragic dramatist of his day, is rarely performed in England. Britannicus First performed in Paris in 1669.
I saw two excellent productions. The first was with Marie Bell and Robert Hirsch; the second was with Diana Rigg and Toby Stephens.
The first was in French and in the French neoclassical manner, full of decency and formality; it had the splendor and elegance of the Sun King Louis XVI. The second was in English in Modern Dress directed by Jonathan Kent for the Almeida.
Britannicus plays a passive supporting role. Racine should have called the play Nero; and it would have been so much better from a box office perspective.
Everyone knows what kind of monster Nero became, setting Rome on fire and masturbating while it burned. The action takes place just prior to his highly successful career in murder, rape, robbery, chariot racing, buggery and singing. He always won first prize (or otherwise) at festivals.
Racine shows Nero as a 21-year-old in love with his half-brother Britannicus’ girlfriend and trying to free himself from his mother’s apron strings. Nero is the ultimate mama’s boy; just as Agrippina is the ultimate terrible mother.
The play was adapted and translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Production is directed by Atri Banerjee and designed by Rosanna Vize. William Robinson is Nero. Sirine Saba is Agrippina. Nathaniel Curtis is Britannicus.
The back panel has a reproduction of Rubens Romulus and Remus Painting. There are plenty of conference chairs, a water dispenser and a stuffed wolf on the stage. The actors are fashionably dressed and none of them are convincing; and no one knows how to make Racine’s long speeches.
Too many are miscast and there is too much shouting. Using the water cooler is distracting and moving chairs is often unnecessary.
William Robinson in a white tracksuit looks like a high school prefect. There’s no trace of madness, anger, perversion, the psychopath he’s about to become. He’s absolutely amazing like Nero and boring.
Racine deserves better.
Robert Tanitch reviews Racine’s Britannicus at Lyric, Hammersmith, London
Source link Robert Tanitch reviews Racine’s Britannicus at Lyric, Hammersmith, London