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Review: Britannicus at the Lyric Hammersmith

Harriet Hughes

By Harriet Hughes First Published 1 June 2022, Last Updated 8 June 2022

If you’ve seen the heart-wrenching TV sensation It’s A Sin, then you’ll know already that Nathaniel Curtis is sure to be a rising star. I was extremely excited to see him on stage, taking on the classic story of Britannicus.

Set in modern day Rome, this sharply executed classic is full of tension, despair, and warning against tyranny and selfishness by those in power. This play feels very relevant today. It packs a powerful punch, with emotional performances from the whole company.

William Robinson’s performance as Nero was chilling – acting as the spoilt child and donning a pearl white shell suit. His temper can turn on a penny – terrifying one moment and hilarious the next.

Sirine Saba plays the formidable Agrippina, Nero’s mother – she both torments and is tormented by her son. She counsels him in his power; and she holds him to account. She can make or break her son, who, despite his craving for power still seeks her approval.

The structure of the story is gripping – everything takes place over a 24 hour timeframe. The language is snappy, and many of the quick exchanges between characters had the audience laughing out loud.

The show has an incredible soundtrack: some beautiful singing, and haunting notes from a violin played by one of the actors which heighten key moments.

Rachel O’Riordan Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith says of the play, “it raises questions of what nations require from our leaders,” which feels particularly relevant today against the tyranny that we see in the world, and the behaviour of those in power. In one scene, Burrhus (Helena Lymbery) questions Nero about his motives, and what would make him feel successful as a leader. Wouldn’t success be to feel liked by the people? She asks. For them not to fear you, but instead, for them to be better off because of you?


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