Julius Caesar (2)

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Bridge Theatre

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Photograph by Manuel Harlan

I have a lot of thoughts about this production – mainly about how damned exciting the theatre can be when a bunch of talented actors and stage professionals get together with the deliberate intention of rabble-rousing, and when they have the extraordinary flexibility of a new theatre at their disposal.

If you chose to buy what were called, when I bought them, “promenading tickets” but were, by the time I got the email reminder, “immersive standing” tickets then you entered into a rock concert, complete with band, beer-sellers at the edge of the stage, and exhortations to clap and put your hands in the air.* We were the Roman Mob, to be despised, feared, orated at over two of the most active hours I have spent in the theatre. We were also moved around that stage, manhandled, thrown leaflets at and covered in lumps of foam. It was a busy night. Good thing they got us worked up with that rock concert at the start.

A resolutely modern production, this. The conspirators carried guns, not knives, and dressed in grey suits to do the deed. David Calder’s Caesar had more than a hint of the Trump about him, especially in the scene where he turns away from Wendy Kweh’s exasperated Calpurnia to take the advice of Leila Farzad’s Decius Brutus, playing on his vanity and self-importance. Although it was left nicely uncertain as to whether Caesar would have been the tyrant Brutus feared or the saviour Mark Antony made him out to be.

David Morrissey’s Mark Anthony was everything I could have hoped for from the man who specialises in morally ambiguous characters**. From henchman apparently more interested in races than politics to bargaining with men literally covered in the blood of his boss, to chief of an army, co-equal to Kit Young’s splendidly pitched Octavius and keen to overturn all the generous provisions of Caesar’s will even as he had used them to control the mob. I was both literally and metaphorically at his feet through the famous speech, as he went from palpably distraught, shaking hands, to revelling in his power to sway me. Us. I mean The Mob. Please, someone, give this Antony a worthy Cleopatra and I will give you all*** my money.

The speech also marks the only time reverberation has been acceptably used on a mic in a theatre – in my experience anyway. Although I’d like to know how it came across to the seated audience. I think the whole cast was miked up – helpful when they can spend half their time facing directly away from you.

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I even got some mementos/props! Totally felt justified in nabbing the red leaflet, as I was hit in the nose by it…

Ben Wishaw’s Brutus had the feel of a stereotypical Russian dissident – the combination of passionate scholarly intensity, with a strange fervency.  He seemed to be almost longing to go out and get his hands dirty, to prove his beliefs by committing bloody acts – it felt almost a more believable motive than the vanity Cassius tries to play on, and gave more weight to his anger when he loses his temper with Cassius in particular. Leaphia Darko’s Portia had a single scene – ending rather weirdly in her being carted offstage, this was not the strong and persuasive Portia I take from the script – but there was affection enough for real sadness when Brutus declares her dead****

Michelle Fairley was fantabulous (seriously so amazing I have had to make up words to describe her). Her Cassius was a more practical conspirator than Brutus – and without his fire to carry it through she was, rightly, more uncertain, more nervous, more overwrought by what they had done. Despite the fact she starts the conspiracy, she wasn’t the amoral character she could have been (I got that vibe much more strongly from to Adjoa Andoh’s envious Casca*****) – you completely believed her when she swore the money for Brutus’ troops had gone astray through no fault of her own. I mis-heard the early line of Brutus’:

“Tomorrow, if you please to speak with me,

I will come home to you, or, if you will,

Come home to me and I will wait for you.”

As starting “Tomorrow, if you please to sleep with me” – and spent a good third of the play musing on how it was an unlikely, but not impossible, direction to take the characters in. Fairley and Wishaw acted so well together they could have carried it off, I think. Their quiet scenes together were some of the best in the play – helped by the staging which brought them together on shared islands in the sea of the mob, while more often than not other characters would be exchanging lines across the whole distance of the pit, or while moving while the stage (and the audience) moved with them******. The death of Cinna the poet, by contrast, happened at ground level and was more felt as a ripple in the crowd than seen.

 

All in all, I came away with the impression that, rather than preserving the Republican status quo Brutus longed for, the act of Caesar’s death was a catalyst to far greater change than his rule might have been – so many opponents slain, leaving the way clear for Octavius to seize more power than Caesar had; a Mark Anthony with a taste for power and for public adulation; and a mob with a bloodthirsty taste for spectacle. What will The Bridge Theatre give us next to slake our thirst?


* The split between the standing and seated audience was most apparent, not in the age gap, but in the familiarity with the ways of the gig…

** I just finished watching State Of Play – only 15 years late! – and by god it is still brilliant… And I am SO EXCITED for The City and The City.

*** Well, some of…

**** The running time was a sleek 2 hours (without an intermission) and I think most of the cuts were in the second half. If you want the long version – with running snark – I can recommend Good Tickle Brain https://goodticklebrain.com/?tag=julius+caesar

***** JC is chock-full of quotable phrases isn’t it? Cry Havoc, the fault in our stars, the most unkindest cut of all – it is not Greek to me!

****** And I can’t get over the versatility of the theatre. There were seats where last time I went there had been a stage, a pit where there had been seats, and a rising and falling floor space which gave versatility and movement to the production – although it did require a fair bit of shepherding to make sure none of the audience injured themselves or ended up propelled onto the stage…

3 thoughts on “Julius Caesar (2)

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