Tristan Bernays on Boudica
It’s unusual to start a Monday morning at work watching Gina McKee cut out someone’s tongue – but that’s what’s happening as I write this blog, and I couldn’t be happier.
Gina will be playing the title role in my new show Boudica, a brand new ancient history play that recounts the story of Britain’s most famous and fearsome warrior queen.
The story begins in 61AD in Britannia, the farthest outpost of the Roman Empire. The Romans have spent the last 100 years colonising and ruling the local tribes, and when the king of the Iceni Prasutagus dies, his widow Boudica comes to claim her rightful throne. For daring to defy the might of Rome, the queen is flogged, her two daughters Alonna and Blowdynn are raped and all three are banished from Icenia.
But rather than accept her fate, Boudica raises an army of 100,000 angry Britons and together they begin a bloody rebellion that threatens to overthrow the Roman Empire.
Photos: from the rehearsal room, Twitter @tristanbernays
Which is how I find myself watching Gina mutilating poor Owen (playing a battered and bruised Centurion) before we’ve even had a cup of tea.
To be honest, I never dreamed I would be here in this rehearsal room. Before Boudica, I wrote a play called Teddy, a play about Teddy Boys in 1950s London. It was a firecracker of a show – big and loud and exciting, but very small. Just two actors playing all the characters. My show before that The Bread & The Beer was a one man show about the ancient god of beer, sex and chaos John Barleycorn being dug up in modern day London – again with one performer (me) playing all the parts.
So far, it had all been small plays. I was ready for something big. Something huge. Something epic. A multi narrative, sweeping drama with battles and swordplay, so large that no one would ever really produce it. It would basically be a calling card to show I could ‘write big’ if and when any big theatres came a-knocking in some flung, misty future.
And that’s where Boudica came in.
Many years ago, when I was still an actor, a close female friend and actor said to me she was sick of not having the fun that her male counterparts got to have. Male actors get to have sword fights, gun battles, car chases. Most parts for women, she said (especially in Shakespeare and classical theatre), require them to be beautiful and witty in a pretty dress, before they die gracefully. Very boring.
Seven years later it came to writing this ridiculous epic I had planned, I remembered this conversation and realised I wanted to write something for women. Something with complex and difficult characters. Where they got to wield swords and lead armies. Fight and destroy. Kill and be killed. Something where they got be warriors.
What better story than Boudica?
Of course, no-one would be foolish enough to actually produce a show which required 20 characters, gods and queens and warriors and generals, multiple sword and fist fights, endless explosions, buckets of blood, guts and no less than three battles.
No-one could be that foolish surely?
God bless The Globe for being that foolish. For being brave enough to put strong and complex female characters front and centre. For trusting a numpty like me with their incredible stage. For letting me run riot and bring the story of this extraordinarily woman hurtling into the 21st century.
Boudica may be 2000 years old, but we need characters like her. Now more than ever.