Res Gestae

KIERAN CORCORAN banishes this play from his sight for staining the Imperial name of Theatre.

Augustus bad play capitol kieran corcoran latin leonie james life of brian mainshow new writing niall wilson roman Rome

Corpus Playroom, 8th-12th February, 7pm, £5-6

Directed by Niall Wilson


Writer Niall Wilson knows a lot of swearwords, and his script uses them gratuitously enough to make a Tab reviewer blush. With shame as much as prudery. The underbelly of Augustan Rome, Wilson’s subject, obviously doesn’t need a lexical whitewashing, but when a piece of new writing contains more ‘fuck’ than thought, something has gone deeply wrong.

Julia is the granddaughter of Emperor Augustus. She’s been very naughty and so is sent to an island to think about what she’s done while she lives with some boring people. The disgraced royal is very keen to remind us who her grandpa is, and that she’s a bitch. This is as close to nuance as Leonie James’ imperial problem child comes as she alternates between screaming, sarcasm and having-a-strop-in-the-corner. Admittedly this shows greater emotional range than her fellow actors, but since ‘being dull’ is essentially their stated aim, shouting loudly and often is more than sufficient to rise to the top of the togas.

Photographs by Milla Basma

Despite taking his cues from a juicy bit of Roman history, Wilson fails to capitolise on his source material beyond throwing in a few Latinate names. Shakespeare’s Roman plays do this too, but we let him off on account of being a transcendent genius. This isn’t really a play about Romans, it’s a play about a brat in a room who uses expletives and jarring prose to make life as unpleasant as possible for those around her, be they slaves, respectable matrons or the unwitting few trapped in the Corpus Playroom.

What I will generously term the ‘action’ of the play consists of Julia bedding a slave called Broadus in Cambridge’s worst sex-scene to date. Broadus is not a real Roman name – it has all the authenticity of Biggus Dickus, but isn’t funny. Anyway, post-coitus Julia makes ‘Broadus’ run away, and she pretends he tried to rape her. A combination of morning sickness and a poem she wrote about it (tragic Catullus ripoff) gives her game away. This is interspersed with Julia moaning about how bored she is. I could empathise.

The play adequately summarises itself in lines oddly reminiscent of their author’s approach to writing a play. Julia, having failed to elicit a reaction from her minder (and her audience) shouts ‘Would swearing help?… How about physical violence?’. Silence. Both of Wilson’s dramaturgical ploys had failed.

Continuing a proud tradition amongst aggressively bad Corpus plays, the cast saw fit to lay hands upon my plus-one in an ill-conceived and painful lunge at audience interaction. Caveat spectator – if you insist on seeing this play, avoid the front row. As well as rabid cast-members, unwelcome projectiles included grapes, candles and Julia’s substantial, and distinctly un-Roman, wardrobe.

Towards the beginning of every scene, Julia would throw these clothes all over the place in a caricature of anger. The other actors spend the rest of the scene folding them up and putting them back where they came from. This provides the obvious comfort of allowing them to repeat their lines without a) acknowledging the audience or b) acting at all, but the equally obvious downside of this is that it makes for a really, really poor performance.

There is no reason whatsoever to recommend this production to anybody. Even if you are friends with the cast, don’t go;  you’ll either have to lie about what you thought or offend people. The only good thing about this play is the title, but, then again, quidquid latine dictum sit altum sonatur.