(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/23.)
Once shunned by the British theatre, Racine is edging back into fashion. It is well worth the detour to London's East End to catch Irina Brown's modern-dress revival of this austere 1669 masterpiece, even if a few lines of Timberlake Wertenbaker's excellent new translation get lost in Wilton's echoing acoustic.
Like all great dramatists, Racine anticipates modern thought. There is something deeply Freudian about the anger of Agrippina when she finds herself shunned by the son, Nero, whom she has lovingly installed as Roman emperor in place of his half-brother, Britannicus: Racine even goes out of his way to remind us of the dynasty's incestuous history and Agrippina's seduction of her uncle, Claudius. In portraying Nero's transition from virtuous ruler to embryonic tyrant and foreshadowing the rise of the law-busting overlord, Racine also astutely holds the mirror up to Nietzsche.