Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

"This would be a good wrestling venue" was my first thought when entering the performance space of the Bridge Theatre, though I at least had the grace to be suitably ashamed about it. Seating on all sides and a central performance space—it's like the Cockpit but bigger! The appeal of the venue for this staging was the fact that the audience could be made a part of it, playing the populace of Rome who are so much a part of the play. The central performance space, when I arrived, was full, with a crowd gathered around a band (as it turned out, made up of cast members) playing a variety of suitably politically charged songs (they did play Seven Nation Army but my expected "Oh, Julius Caesar" chant was nor forthcoming.) I initially thought the involvement of the audience was pretty cool, but since reading this I've somewhat changed my mind on that—it definitely seems like the standing audience members are being treated in a substantially inconsiderate manner, and greater care should have (should be!) taken about them. It shoud be possible to have the production staged in this manner without people finding it traumatic and being forced to leave.

All that aside, however: I thought the play was really, really good. I haven't been to see any Shakespeare on the stage for ages (since I was in school, I think—I've probably acted in it more recently than I've seen it performed live), and while it can take a little while for you to adjust your ear to the language, once you have, it really carries you along. (Incidentally, if you were put off by having to read it in school, watching it live is a totally different experience. Drama is the same as poetry—it really needs the performance to bring it to life.) All of the performances were wonderful—"Hello To" David Morrissey as Marc Anthony especially, transitioning seamlessley from carefree Top Lad through mourner to unflinching military leader (which, you realise, was under there all along), gaining the audience's sympathy then ruthlessly pursuing, simultaneously, revenge and his own objectives. Michelle Fairley and Ben Whishaw as Cassius and Brutus too—as the Before Shakespeare article said, remarkably subtle—physically subtle—performances.

I wasn't entirely sure about the precise nature of the setting (definitely not "gangland Chicago", thankfully)—it seemed to veer between "Trump's America"—Caesar in a bomber jacket, theatre staff selling red baseball caps at the beginning—and "something vaguely Soviet"—Caesar wearing a particular sort of greatcoat over his pyjamas, the layout of the set for the Senate. It wasn't too much of an impediment to understanding, though, and the feel was ultimately more important than any completely literal location. It all came together remarkably well, and reminded me why everyone does make such a big deal out of Shakespeare. It really is endlessly adaptable, it really does have a number of profound things to say about power, relationships, loyalty—anything and everything; it also has some all-time quoteable Shakespeare bangers, including the one that John Green used for the title of his terrible book and the one they used in that anime. Would highly, highly recommend you watch it if you can get down to London—it runs until April 15th.

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