Review: Everyman Theatre – The Romans in Britain @ Chapter

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Everyman Theatre – The Romans in Britain
Seligman Theatre, Chapter Arts Centre
Tuesday 28th February 2017

Warning: some readers might find some or all of this content distressing.

*trigger words feature in this review*

Its good to see that Everyman Theatre have finally updated their logo. Where as the old one belongs back in the 90s, this new design rivals everyone going – especially for a Cardiff based theatre company today.

After the great success of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Everyman return with a play notorious for its content and the scandalous court case which followed after its premiere (the Guardian’s article goes into better details into this). First staged in 1980, Howard Brenton’s work caused an uproar for its explicit content, vulgar language and scenes of violence. The Romans have returned to Britain, only this time it was on our stage.

The piece has three timelines: 54 BC (when the Romans invade Britain), 515 AD (the Romans have left and Saxons are now invading) and surprisingly in Ireland in 1980 AD (during the IRA crisis) . At times this becomes convoluted, without any real focus.

Brenton’s scripts lack any real dramatic bite, though rife with blood and guts, little more is gained than some fleeting empathy for the large array of characters who cross our path. Everyman have gathered together a huge ensemble for this show, with most doubling up for The Troubles sequences in Northern Ireland. I guess, this was a hot topic back then, but now it only dates it.

Most of the play  focuses on the summation of the pity of war and invasion creates in people. In one infamous scene, a young male Druid is raped by a Roman soldier (the latter’ commentary afterwards is stomach turning), in a few scenes before an Irishman has his throat slit, the blood drained into a bowl and a slave girl manically bashes in the brains of the other Irishman. It’s all merry stuff really…

The question of “what did the Romans ever do for us?” should really be replaced with “how much did the Romans spoil Britain?“. Their carnage and eventual abandonment of this isle, would later herald more attempts to invade from the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans and amongst others. We knew the Romans were cruel and this play also highlights the rivalry seen between the tribes of Britain and their allegiance to conflicting parties. War never changes and is always alive.

The show is rife with more bodies than Hamlet and perhaps even more than Titus Andronicus. Some of the actors are very good at playing dead, as they remain there for the rest of the act. Delivery of some lines is off, but accents are fairly decent for the time period (even if some of them didn’t exist then). Lead actors shine and the ensemble have that great can do spirit associated with am-dram (not a dirty term). Some actors must learn to go with the flow of the scene and to banish stage fright.

The set is minimal and effective: tress and wood, quite simply. The audio of furious dogs barking quickly becomes infuriating and the helicopter wings which bombarded us at the end of act one hurtle us into The Troubles. Costumes are traditional and as standard, though it always make Brits laugh when we see men adjourned in the silly looking Roman soldier gear.

Worth seeing, but with a cautious warning.

Vicious, vulgar & heartless.

Rating: 3 stars

The Romans in Britain continues at Chapter Arts Centre till 4th March 2017

Poster Design: Bethan Jones

Everyman Theatre stage Top Girls by Carol Churchill in May 2017 and Therese Raquin by Émile Zola (adapted by Nicholas Wright) in November 2017, at Chapter Arts Centre.

An extended performance of Satie’s Vexations takes place around Cardiff in 2017, as a fundraiser for OCD UK, with such venues as the Wales Millennium Centre and Llanishen Parish Church as locations (more to be confirmed). We also need more musicians, venues, electronics artists, rap artists and artists in all fields to help to complete the piece. Follow #CardiffVexations & @weepingtudor on social media to see more! 


Related:

Review: Everyman Theatre – A Day in the Death of Joe Egg @ Chapter

Review: La Cage aux Folles @ New Theatre

 

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