Rape of Lucretia | Benjamin Britten | The Arcola Theatre | Julia Burbach

As one of the centrepieces of the ‘Grimeborn’ festival 2018 at the Arcola Theatre, this award-winning production of “The Rape of Lucretia” sheds an interesting new light on the narrative, the characters and, in this case, the audience too.

Although Benjamin Britten premiered The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne in 1946, he didn’t want it to be a conventional opera-house opera. He sought small-scale intimacy that could travel to places opera didn’t always reach.

The work’s dimensions – eight singers, an orchestra of 12 players, 100 minutes – suit Grimeborn, the Arcola’s annual season of alternative opera: the space, like the opera, is compact, even claustrophobic, in an appropriate way.

Ronald Duncan’s libretto takes us to pre-Christian Rome, ruled over by Tarquinius. It is an intense piece, but one that is ideal for the intimacy of the staging at the Arcola. The complexities of the structure are more clear-cut when witnessed close up. The male and female chorus hold the narrative together and they very much involve the audience; shaping the emotional response as they uncover the events. It’s almost as if the chorus are discovering it all for the first time themselves.

Lucretia drawing

Bettina John’s set is paired-down and serves the small space. The bed, made of boxes of different sizes accomodate the various settings in the text. In the pre-set there is the bed, the crime scene, with Lucretia lying on it, becoming one with the bedding. The red of the boxes are a clear indicator of what is going to happen in the end, an ending known to everybody, as implied in the title. Together with lighting designer Robert Price, Bettina John and the director Julia Burbach created the set like a film shoot, emphasising the idea of voyeurism and an audience’s complicity.

Set and Costume Design: Bettina John
Director: Julia Burbach
Music Orpheus Sinfonia directed by Peter Selwyn
Lighting design: Robert price

——This production won the Offie Award 2018——


James Corrigan  | Junius
Bethan Langford | Lucretia
Benjamin Lewis | Tarquinius
Rob Murray | Male Chorus (first week)
Nick Prichard  | Male Chorus (second week)
Natasha Jouhl | Female Chorus
Claire Swale | Lucia
Katharine Taylor-Jones | Bianca
Andrew Tipple | Collatinus

♦♦♦♦ Stars reviews
“thoroughly engaging”
“Bettina John creates a striking design within a moon-like circle of white fabric with six versatile red boxes and white bed linen”
“it is difficult to imagine a more powerful production of this gripping chamber opera”
“…boldly directed by Julia Burbach, a staff director at the Royal Opera House, and compactly designed by Bettin John.”