romans take britain


Twenty-five years ago, Howard Brenton set out to shock the bourgeoisie with his play, The Romans in Britain, at the National’s Olivier Theatre. It contained everything that the theatre of that age loved to use for this purpose – foul language, male nudity, simulated sex acts on stage, sympathy for the downtrodden Irish – all combined in a timeless and formless disunity. From this point of view, the play was a huge success. “FURY OVER NUDE PLAY SHOCKER”, was the London Evening Standard’s front-page headline; “A disgrace . . . disgusting . . . GLC chief Cutler threatens grant cut over new NT drama”, it continued. Sir Peter Hall, absent in New York, was telephoned, and replied with typical bluster:

“It is in my view an ambitious and remarkable piece of dramatic writing. . . . Caesar’s Roman army was noted for its brutality and sexual licence. This is apparent in one scene in the play. The director and author feel it is a context that could not be side-stepped or ignored. If I thought it was meretricious and encouraging what it is supposed to be deploring then I would not put it on.”

The theatrical establishment was having great fun.

more from the TLS here.