Although Nathaniel Curtis gave a good performance as Britannicus, the titular character was overshadowed by the fantastic portrayal of William Robinson as Nero. Robinson played the Emperor Nero as boy with a childlike innocence in one moment and as a brutal and tyrannical dictator in the next. Watching his mother Agrippina (Sirine Saba) and his advisors Narcissus (Nigel Barrett) and Burrhus (Helena Lymbery) masterfully manipulate him to carry out their schemes, you could so easily believe that Nero thought these were his own plans due to Robinson’s beautiful portrayal.

© Marc Brenner

Even with less time on centre stage Shyvonne Ahmmad, in the role of Junia, captured the audience with her passionate and deeply emotional performance. It was a delight that Ahmmad kept her native Scottish accent and it served to separate her from the rest of the cast, in the same manner that Junia was separate from the rest of the court of Nero, with such little influence over both her own life and the politics of Rome.

© Marc Brenner

At the beginning, the cast all seemed to be dressed for completely different shows and if there was a grand reason for this it was not easily understood and just led to what felt like a lack of cohesion. There was also a stuffed wolf placed upstage, and while the illusion to the mythos of the founding of Rome was clear, its greater purpose was less so and simply acted as an unnecessary distraction.

With such powerful performances in both the words and silence from the actors, it felt a shame that in the pivotal moment after Nero has decided to indeed commit fratricide and is coming to term with his decision, the intensity shown on Robinson’s face and the music that surrounds him is lost as stagehands noisily rearrange the chairs for the next scene.

© Marc Brenner

There have been some reviews of Atri Banerjee’s new adaptation of this 17th century play that criticise the decision to revive the show after so long away from the London stage and negate its relevance for the modern era. I disagree with that criticism and wonder if, in this age of cronyism and corruption within our own politics, Banerjee uses Britannicus to ask us to remember that so often we do not see the wheels of power behind our leaders and although they are to blame for their decisions, we must not underestimate the influence of those that have ear of the emperor.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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