Review: Hadrian

Image credit: ADC Theatre

Set in the Imperial Court at Egypt in the second century AD, Hadrian is a piece of new writing, and David Tremain’s script was outstanding for this entire piece; the plot was interesting and believable, the use of the historical facts was commendable, and there was a moving poetry to many of the lines. Particularly effective were the longer speeches, such as that of Hadrian to his guard (Marcus, played well by Dimitrios Goumenos) which makes clear his loneliness after the loss of his intellectual equals.

Yet the production side was not without flaws. The final scenes were somewhat difficult to understand, for one simple reason: the only attempt to mark a gap in the historical events of 8 years was a slight change of costume. Indeed, costumes felt like something of a hindrance more generally, and in particular Hawkins’ toga seemed to make his movements awkward at times. It is perhaps ironic, therefore, that the weakest scene in this play was, for me, that in which Antinous is measured for his processional costume. Despite worthy acting, the comedic nature of this scene jarred unpleasantly with the otherwise serious emotional calibre of the play as a whole.

The finest acting performance was undoubtedly Gabriel Agranoff as Antinous, captivating and believable from the easy body language of his first scene to his powerful emotional delivery of his last; he was closely followed in this by Landi Wagner as the Empress Vibia Sabina. The almost flawless three-way dynamic between Agranoff, Wagner and the also excellent Ben Hawkins as Hadrian was a definite strength of this production.

This was let down slightly in the earlier part of the play by the character of Suetonius, played by Alex Izza. In a piece dealing with themes of love and power, and for which the age dynamic between the characters has an important role, Izza’s performance unfortunately lacked the passion and ease required for a believable relationship with Vibia, and the gravitas which would have emphasised his age and intellect in order to better explain his relationship with Hadrian. At times it felt too much emphasis was placed on the clarity of the (admittedly excellent) lines, but at the expense of a more nuanced delivery. Neither was the character helped by a preponderance for short scenes in the earlier part of the play, which severely slowed down the pace; yet this picked up thanks to longer scenes in the latter section.

Overall, although far from perfect, Hadrian contains some extremely strong writing and performances, and tells a fascinating story often otherwise sidelined; it will prove especially powerful viewing for anyone interested in Roman or in LGBT+ history.

7/10

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