The quality of the raw material is undeniable and the recent successes of mega-hits like Hamilton, Hadestown and Six prove there is an audience waiting.
Fresh ideas leap out from all sides of this production which puts a musical and contemporary spin on the little known story of Roman Emperor Nero also known as Domitius . Henry Gu Cao, Lux Knightley and Luke McCormick who collectively composed, wrote and produced the show, home in on the darker aspects of Domitius’ rein, which the show revolves around. The scene for this slice of Roman life, is set in style, by the stage management team who use their imagination to conjure up the menace and pomp of the Roman Empire, with simple but effective stage design.
As a whole, Domitius has so much potential that it feels wrong to reduce it to a three-star show.
The value of the material is easily unmatched for a debuting team of writers, and the performance is ferocious in its quality. They just need to decide if they want it to be a comedy or a tragedy.
Not sure what I was expecting from a musical about the Roman Emperor Nero, but was intrigued to find out...
As we entered the hall, the live orchestra was already in place in front of the stage, young men and women in their 20’s dressed in black sets with gold leaf ‘Caesar’ bands on their heads. I was surprised to see a set of drums and electric guitars among the assembled instruments – so this wasn’t to be a classical rendition of the story then..
A hush fell among them as the conductor appeared, a young Scotsman in part traditional regalia namely, flat, knee-high boots, kilt and a wee red beard (!).
Then the cast of actors exploded onto the stage and whizzed and fire-cracked from then on! A soft rock rendition of the reign of Nero in a snap-shot, with nods to the scores of ‘Tommy’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’.
it was both gory and comedic i.e. Nero prancing around like a rock God with sunglasses and reciting his badly written poetry, and drawing on modern references; “ Nero, we’ve opened an eatery in honour of your name” here, a placard with the words ‘Café Nero’ is held up. The cast vocals were strongly projected and ranged from the soulful to the operatic with some beautiful harmonizing, the male lead in
particular, was positively elasticated in his range! The costumes were varying, striking and beautiful and the choreographed dance moves bold, energetic and exciting, making full use of the stage, the sequenced timing was excellent.
This was professional West End entertainment at close quarters, being held in a hall rather than a theatre, but was no less a performance for that, and it was approachable too, as the cast mingled with the public during intermission (I found out that I’d been sitting next to the sister of ‘Octavia’ no less!).
In summary, this was a young, vibrant, talented and confident cast of actors and musicians giving their all for this night’s entertainment and they excelled in it!
My only quibble was that the intermission was perhaps too long at 30 minutes, but then I think both cast and audience needed a rest as this was high octane stuff(!) The bar was cheap with soft drinks at only £2 and the glossy programmes £3. If you want a fun night
out, I thoroughly recommend this - oh, and before you go, brush up on your Roman numerals as all the seats are labelled thus, which was a bit confusing for some – me included (seat II I)!
This show deserves to live beyond these three scheduled nights, it contains a lot that is very good, especially in the second half. Mercifully it was not too loud. Now I really must go and see the Nero exhibition in the British Museum.
Firstly, the producers are to be commended for taking a risk on putting on a musical in a small venue like this and in the process providing employment for over 20 actors, musicians and technicians.
I enjoyed the music and the songs, but was less convinced about the play itself which swings rather wildly between comedy and tragedy and back again. It was also rather difficult to follow some of the exposition as the placing of the band in front of the stage made some of the song lyrics inaudible.
Most of the cast had great singing voices, with the standout being Max Himmelreich as Nero the diva.