A loving ode to a Warrior Queen

The Warrior Queen: Chasing Boudicca
Thursday, January 20, 7:30 p.m.
National Arts Centre – Fourth Stage

I should have come earlier.

The salon-like Fourth Stage at the National Arts Centre was already packed with charming café tables, candle-lit, naturally. And all of the 30 or so tables had been claimed 15 minutes before “curtain rise”. It was sitting room at the back only. Even from there the view of the stage was clear and intimate.

Three women in shawls inscribed with Celtic patterns walked onto the stage. Musician Nathan Bishop played a Celtic drumbeat. The crowd was hushed.

Ottawa poet Kathryn Hunt, the central figure and the impetus for the evening’s vision, first invited us to re-imagine Bouddica, the Iceni queen who lived in 1st century England, the person who is said to have led the largest uprising against the Roman Empire and after some early victories, lost.

The tensions began around 61 AD when Boudicca’s husband Prasutagus attempted to leave half of his estate to his daughters, and the other half to Rome. Instead, upon Prasutagus’s death, the Roman procurator seized the entire estate, Boudicca was publicly flogged, and her two daughters raped.

The uprising that ensued could be read as revenge writ large with a scorned woman at its heart. Considering that all we know about her is from her Roman victors, one can only imagine what the real woman was like.

It’s rich fodder for storytelling and Hunt, author Marie Bilodeau and storyteller Ruthanne Edward took on the challenge while Bishop provided Celtic musical interludes during their performances, while Hunt, Bilodeau and Edward and shared the storyline over two acts.

Edward was the most seasoned storyteller of the three. To her were given the battle scenes, each word delivered like a polished stone, no audible exhale or inhale on either end, hand gestures measured and effective. She easily slipped into the persona of stalked Roman, washerwoman crone or infuriated daughter and her account of Boudicca’s first attack told from the perspective of a future Roman victim, invoked a creative use of narrative and conveyed the most tension and drama.

Hunt represented us: her poems were poignant and speak to how she, as a 13-year-old living in England, fell under the allure of the tawny-haired warrior queen. She talked of her continual search, internal and creatively, for the mythical queen’s persona, and for her source of strength and great her rage. Throughout the performance, Hunt remained the touch-stone. She pulled us into the everyday, reminding us of Boudicca’s and our own vulnerability.

In contrast, Bilodeau followed the path of Boudicca’s two daughters, named here as “Raven” and “Lark” although their true names were never recorded by historians. Raven and Lark represented the extreme poles of rage and reluctance, a perhaps predictable choice. Bilodeau’s delivery was uneven in the second half of the performance which also distracted.

In the end, Hunt poems brought us to an unexpected and inspiring place, with the warrior queen escaping from her suicide pact and ending up a grey-haired crone by a fireside telling her tale in peace, as we perhaps would wish her.

The mix of poetry, narrative and music created a strong tale that lent a different take on the Warrior Queen.

Next up:

Friday, January 28 at 7 p.m.: Once Upon a Slam, is a new monthly story slam series at Mercury Lounge Underground (aka Bar 56), the last Friday every month, and emceed by the talented Ruthanne Edward. The Ottawa Storytellers will also be featuring storytellers after the slam.

$7 cover charge for listeners (slam participants get in free)

Nichole McGill is an author who is enjoying her newfound love of attending storytelling events. She blogs at http://www.nicholemcgill.com