The Rape Of Lucrece – September 2006

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Gregory Doran

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Sunday 10th September 2006

Now for rape, suicide, and the end of a monarchy. This was an excellent reading of the poem, suitably edited to keep the running time down. Again, it was so warm I was finding it hard to concentrate at times, but the performances were very effective, especially when Jane Lapotaire was taking us through Lucrece’s sufferings – despite being raped, that woman had the stamina and the vocabulary to outlast Patience! We just got the edited highlights, thankfully.

Basic plot. Tarquin’s son rapes Lucrece, after a (relatively) short pause to consider the merits or otherwise of his actions. No contest – lust wins again. She’s in despair, and lets us know all about it, railing against time, opportunity, her husband, etc. before considering a painting of the Trojan War (as you do). She has the wit to send for her husband, and meeting him on her return, appears to have run out of words. After briefly explaining that the King’s son has raped her (serious editing here), she stabs herself, under the horrible delusion that somehow she’s damaged goods and the stain on her character cannot be removed. Personally, I prefer the version of red Riding Hood where the little girl, on encountering a grandma with long snout, long ears and big teeth, takes a gun out of her basket and shoots the wolf (James Thurber, I think). Woman power. Then we have Lucrece’s father and husband wrangling over whose loss is the greater (shades of Laertes and Hamlet). Will no one call an ambulance? (OK, the poet thinks she’s dead, but what does he know? A good doctor, a fully equipped ER, and she might recover!) Fortunately Brutus (ancestor of the Caesar-slayer) is on hand to knock some sense into them. So, off they go to overthrow the political structure of Rome. Yes, it is a bit of a jump, but if you know your Roman history, it makes perfect sense (thank you Mr Parks, my second year Latin teacher).

Several curtain calls (what do you call these when there’s no curtain?), which often seems to take actors by surprise. Did they think we’d gone home? Snuck out while they weren’t looking, or were they too engrossed in their part to notice? I suppose this isn’t a promising subject for rapturous applause, but then you’re not likely to get much passing trade at this sort of thing – only your hard-core Shakespeare fans, desperate to catch a glimpse of this rarely sighted beast.

One final point – the actors had been standing for so long, they actually found it difficult to take their bow; perhaps that explains the response to the applause – they couldn’t wait to get off the stage!

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

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