“Excellent direction and design accompany an incredibly skilled cast who all shine in various moments…

DUCT and Suffragette’s punchy new Assembly Rooms show Boudica is gripping start to finish as it follows the titular Iceni queen on her quest for justice whilst carefully questioning what justice is. The actors across the board present carefully realised characters and the direction is constantly fresh, bringing an invigorating energy to the production.

Credit must firstly be given to the beautiful set. Two banners emblazoned at the back of the stage clearly illustrating the division running rampant across Britannia. There is also an impressively realistic animal skull intertwined with vines, creating a vivid sense of the Celtic wilds. This effect is beautifully aided by the lighting design, which is one of the standout points of the show. Footlights along the back of the stage create the effect of dappled sunlight breaking through the trees before flashing red in gorier moments. The cold veneer of Roman politics is keenly felt under the harsh, cold lights on the apron. But the lighting truly comes into its own in the fight scenes.

Boudica is undoubtedly at its best when it’s violent. Emma Henderson and Kate Broekman’s energetically choreographed movement works fantastically with Alannah O’Hare’s direction and Samantha Dotson and Lauren Bailey’s assistant direction. The choreography is bold and the actors meet it with gusto, delivering battles that – whilst not entirely convincing – are undoubtedly spectacular and chaotic. The music and sound scaping used in these scenes is also incredibly effective. Some of the intricacies of the dialogue are lost, but the cacophony of drumming, chanting and Celtic music creates an immersive effect that really brings the play to life. There is also a fantastically executed bit of SFX at the end of act one that sells the brutality perfectly.

However the most chilling part of the play for me is in one of its less frantic scenes – Boudica’s initial punishment by the Romans. The ominous bass drum in time with April Kinder’s broken screams is truly a difficult watch. Yet, the scene never crosses the boundary of becoming too graphic. The direction and choreography are strong in communicating tragedy in a way that does not feel exploitative yet does not shy away from the horror of the situation. It is a thoughtfully staged moment that encapsulates what it needs to perfectly – horror and pity without any voyeuristic glee.

The show is also brimming with knockout performances. Kinder is fantastic as Boudica, strong and regal, despite occasional awkward blocking where she is grappling with both a sword and spear. Edward Clark, Samuel Bentley and Caroline Miholic are effortlessly funny as a trio of roman soldiers, earning many well-deserved laughs with their quick comedic timing. All three then do a fantastic job at turning this easy chemistry into something far more sinister, pushing the sense that the audience are complicit. Alannah O’Hare and Eleanor Sumner as Alonna and Blodwynn are excellent, both beautifully capturing the pair’s sisterly bond whilst portraying the underlying tensions beneath. Sumner shines as cold hearted Blodwynn, capturing her pragmatism masterfully – straying into cruelty but also a raw sense of anger and vulnerability that balance the character on a knife’s edge. Archie Nolan is similarly impressive as Catus, playing him with a smug sneer that perfectly communicates his vindictiveness yet also his cowardice. Jo Price gives a standout performance as Gaius Suetonius, captivatingly cunning and bloodthirsty. There’s a real sense of menace to his stage presence, especially unsettling as he calls for Boudica in the woods. Price also deftly presents Suetonius’ sense of duty, a soldier through and through.

Overall, Boudica is a hit. Whilst a difficult watch in places, it’s difficult for all the right reasons. Excellent direction and design accompany an incredibly skilled cast who all shine in various moments. The conflict is intricately realised, creating an overall beautiful show.

By Nat Pryke

Boudica will continue to show at 19:30 on Friday and Saturday the 7th and 8th of June

Photo Credits: Suffragette and DUCT