A tough, vigorous epic, The Romans in Britain looks at imperialism and the conflict of cultures, examining Julius Caesar’s invasion of Celtic Britain, a Saxon invasion of Roman-Celtic Britain, and the British Army in the twentieth-century conflict in Northern Ireland.
As these scenes bleed into one another, Brenton suggests what it might have been like for these people to meet. Three Roman soldiers sexually assault a young druid priest. A lone, wounded Saxon soldier stumbles into a field, a nightmare made real. An army intelligence officer begins to lose his mind in the Irish fields. Brenton’s sinewy vernaculars summon a lost history of cultural collision and oppression, of fear and sorrow.
When first performed in 1980 on the Olivier Stage at the National Theatre, London, there was great controversy concerning the scene in which a male priest is raped by a Roman soldier, with the moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse bringing an unsuccessful court case against the production.