School Of Night’s ‘Battlesong of Boudica’ Raging at The Hudson

By Ernest Kearney Christopher William Johnson and his School of Night company has, over the years, been responsible for an impressive array of intelligent, entertaining and wildly ambitious productions; Punch and Judy (actors-not puppets,) Hercules Insane and Klingon Tamburlaine, to name a few.  

SON’s latest venture, now on at The Hudson Backstage, is Battlesong of Boudica; the epic tale of Boudica, queen of an ancient British tribe the Iceni, who in 60 CE lead a brutal rebellion against the occupying forces of the mighty Roman empire.

As told by the Roman historian Tacitus, Boudica’s husband Prasutagus, king of a Roman client state, named the Roman Emperor Nero as co-heir, in his will.  By doing this he hoped to provide protection for his family and to preserve a portion of his lands for them. Sadly, he underestimated the extent of Roman greed. 

Following Prasutagus’ death his entire kingdom was annexed.  When Boudica protested this injustice, she was flogged by the Romans and her two daughters were raped in her presence.  Boudica raised the Iceni and other British tribes to revolt against Roman rule, which had only been established twenty years earlier by the emperor Claudius.

First destroying Camulodunum, the province’s capital, Boudica then struck at the recently settled market town of Londinium razing to the ground and putting to the sword all of its inhabitants.  It would take over eight hundred years before the Saxon King Alfred the Great would “refound” the city as London.

The historian Cassius Dio, writing 140 years after the events, puts Boudica’s army at 120,000 and this could be accurate as the warring Britons would have travelled with their families.  However many warriors she had following her, Boudica’s savage campaign against the Romans was successful enough to have the Emperor Nero consider withdrawing the imperial forces from the island that his stepfather had conquered,

But Roman Britain was saved by the Roman Governor Paulinus who had returned from campaigning in Wales and marshalled an army to meet the rebels.  Boudica had superior numbers, however Paulinus’ force was comprised of veteran legionaries and the rebellious Britons were completely routed. 

Tacitus claims Boudica slaughtered 80,000 Romans and their supporters.  The figure sounds inflated, but as Tacitus’ father-in-law had served under Paulinus it may not be exaggerated by much.    

Johnson recounts the history of Boudica’s revolt with sixteen actors and one percussionist with the high theatricality, exquisite staging and artistry gilded with intelligence that are hallmarks of SON’s productions. 

Jen Albert, co-founder of SON and an award-winning fight choreographer, not only synchronizes the abundant slashing of swords but takes on the role of Boudica with a wild passion that pillows her performance to perfection, as Johnson fills the stage about her with clashing armies and other bloody mayhem from a gladiatorial bout to a vengeful Goddess. 

Battlesong of Boudica – the Druid Battle / Photo by Jessica Sherman

Johnson does good service in his recounting of the history, even if the telling comes off as somewhat cramped. 

There are some good performances in addition to Albert’s, there’s Colin A. Bordon’s Agricola (Tacitus’ father-in-law,) Christopher Neiman’s Paulinus and Brad C. Light as Decianus, but these, as well, are too truncated to be fully satisfying.

Johnson tries to fit a chunk of history into a tight span, and perhaps he could have overlooked Paulinus’ annihilation of the Druids.  As it is between Albert’s elaborate staging of the sword play and Kate Coleman’s intriguing re-fashioning of the Māori ceremonial Haka into a Briton war dance, the production seems to have emphasis on choreography over the clarification of character or the sharpening of the central conflict.

After Paulinus’ suppression of the rebellion, Rome continued to rule Britain until 410 CE, and today Boudica is celebrated as an early champion of English nationhood.  School of Night’s production tells the saga of Boudica splendidly and is far more entertaining than any history class you’ve ever had to sit through.

(Battlesong of Boudica Photos By: Jessica Sherman)

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Battlesong of Boudica

• Sunday at 7 p.m.: April 9 (Opening),

• Sundays at 3 p.m.: April 16, April 23, April 30

• Monday at 8 p.m.: April 10 Pay-What-You-Can

• Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 14, April 21, April 28

• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 15, April 22, April 29


The Hudson Theatres
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at and Follow him on Facebook.

Latest comments
  • Wonderful review! I saw it and also loved it! Ernest, you are a true theatre critic and intellectual. you always go above and beyond in your critiques, sharing valuable historical insights where warranted. Some of your descriptions are true gems, like this one here on Battlesong:

    “high theatricality, exquisite staging and artistry gilded with intelligence”

    I couldn’t agree more.


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