Domitius, a new musical of Roman proportions, is an ambitious production but the standard is lowered by a host of issues.
Nero doesn’t want to be the emperor of Rome. He becomes emperor. He then gets incredibly paranoid about losing the power that he now loves (although that’s not a journey the audience gets to take with him). That’s the general gist of this new musical loosely based on the historical figure’s life.
It is easier to focus on the broad concept of this performance, as understanding the specifics is very difficult. The sound levels are very unbalanced with the band drowning out nearly all the singing. This is particularly problematic as so much exposition seems to be done through song. A simple solution may well be to just turn the microphones up or make an adjustment to the speaker layout in the room, but really one questions the need for a nine-piece band that features two electric guitars and a set of drums for such a small production.
Also lacking is the lighting. The technicians just keep missing their cues, resulting in actors beginning their scenes in the dark because of a late spotlight, or scene changeovers being fully lit before the lights go out, just as the actors arrive on stage.
The story tries to cover the protagonist’s entire reign but the writing doesn’t handle it particularly well. Every scene skips forward in time and is clumsily explained. In one moment Nero becomes emperor, and in the very next someone has to say, “It has been one year since you became emperor”. This happens in more or less every scene thereafter. The writing also succumbs to pantomime-esque temptations, avoiding any real drama and tension in favour of some pretty cheap and cringe-worthy jokes. A Donald Trump impression comes four years too late and an entire section is added just to make a Caffè Nero pun.
The acting in the main roles is mostly ok. Nicole Smart as Aggripina and Hannah Kiss as Octavia pretty much nail their roles, and Max Himmelreich puts on a good show as the emperor. The singing, however, is fantastic. At the rare times when the guitars and trumpets lay off a little and the audience can actually hear the vocals, the cast show off some pretty great voices. Himmelreich has a particularly tremendous range but the whole cast can really sing.
Ultimately, even with the production issues fixed, the positive elements of Domitius might not be enough.
Photo: Flavia Fraser-Cannon
Domitius is at from 6th August until 8th August 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.