Theatre Review

 

 

BARRY GRANTHAM

A review by Barry Grantham w for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 


Britannicus

 

Jean Racine in a new translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker

 

Directed by Irena Brown

 

Designer Cloe Lamford

 

Wilton’s Music Hall
 
21 Oct. – 19 Nov. 2011

 

For once I approach my keyboard with some hesitation. Was my dissatisfaction with Britannicus  at Wilton’s Music Hall last night  due to my lack  of sympathy for this form of theatre, which goes against so much of what  I hold dear (I have never understood Voltaire’s blind spot  for Shakespeare and the elevation of  his compatriots) or was it due to deficiencies in the present  production and its performance?  Having admitted my distaste for the 17th century plays of Racine and Corneille, is the present production still deficient even on its own terms?  I rather think it is.  The new translation I allow to be somewhat better than competent though it lacks all trace of the poetic grandeur that even I can appreciate in the original. I have never thought of Racine as a bundle of laughs, (having never seen his one comedy Les Plaideurs) so, were the vaguely funny bits unintentional or intended?  If intended they didn’t work very well, eliciting a sort of groan or grunt from the audience in place of laughter. I did laugh at the one line from Agrippina to murderous Nero; “Come and sit down with your Mother”   recalling the famous closing remark in Arthur Kopit’s play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mum's Hung You in the Closet & I'm Feeling So Sad from Hermione Gingold to the scene of bloodshed perpetrated by her son; “I ask you, as a Mother; what is the meaning of this?”   

This brings me to praise the scintillating performance from Sian Thomas as Agrippina, all brittle elegance in a series of stunning frocks that induces another question; what was the thinking behind the ‘Modern Dress’ costuming?  Brittanicus like a teddy-boy, Nero like a 1980’s yuppie banker, poor Junia so dull, so drab, that one can’t for a moment imagine why Nero and Brittanicus could have quarrelled over her, and as for the aforementioned frocks, did the producers really want us to find a parallel between Agrippina and Elvira from Blithe Spirit?

As the play progressed I waited vainly for some of the theatrical brilliance from director Irena Brown which I had so admired in her beautiful production of War and Peace for Gifford’s Circus, which I saw only a couple of weeks ago. But here for Brittannicus the direction seemed no more than a competent plotting of the drama.    

If Miss Brown should read this and not have flung it aside in indignation, may I make a criticism, which is meant to be helpful, in that is that all her male actors were guilty of the quite unforgivable mannerism of punctuating each phrase and even every syllable with an up and down movement of the hands, either a clenched fist or with flat hands as in a Rabbit Punch  This is resorted to when the actor feels that he can’t give sufficient emphasis to the emotion and is not trusting  the words themselves. It may well have been exacerbated by the strain of press night. I’m sure that both Alexander Vlahos as Brittanicus and Matthew Needham as Nero have natural talent which will stand them in good stead, but they are not yet seen to advantage in this production.

 


Tues – Sat 7.30. Thurs and Sat matinees 2.30pm
Wilton’s Music Hall
1 Graces Alley. London. E1 8JB
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
infor@wiltons.org.uk  www.. wiltons.org.uk
Standard £25 – Cons. £22.50  Matinees £20

 

 

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