Posts Tagged ‘Julius Caesar’

Mini-review – Julius Caesar – Donmar Warehouse

December 6, 2012

This has been the year for Shakespearean double vision. Not content to see Henry V, Winter’s Tale, and Julius Caesar once this year, I’ve been forced by outstanding casting, adventurous producing companies, or unusual interpretations (a musical?) to see them all twice. But none of these rewind shows has excited me as much as the all-female Caesar presented by the Donmar this winter. Though I love Propeller Theater and the Globe’s Twelfth Night pleased, I was mesmerized by the idea of women driving this most masculine of Shakespearean dramas. And what a counterbalance to all of the “traditional” all-male shows. Phyllida Lloyd, bring it!

In practice, the show delivered. The setting, a prison, prepared us with a sentiment of why the show was happening as performed; but quickly the novelty of women kissing and being brutal to each other disappeared into the solidity of the text, with only the occasional clumping of the guards overhead to remind us of where we really were: a place ruled by honor, violence, and power. Caesar convinced with both arrogance and superstition; Marc Antony was righteously wrong and a deliciously duplicitous self-claimed non-orator; Brutus was noble, heartbreaking and heart broken.

Small, apt touches punctuated the fiercesome tide of the text: the sad, weak seer, with her babydoll and pig tails; the inmates gathering to watch TV; the single snare drum pop with which Caesar, her ghost miraculously appearing amidst a percussion kit, marks the death of Brutus. And then towering above it all, the amazing battle scene as loud rock breaks out and the band is wheeled across the field (er, the floor of the prison), all pain and noise and flickering light and chaos, like War Pigs in the theater. It’s not glory, boys, it’s death and destruction, and it may just be we chose the wrong side.

And then it’s time to go back in our cells, and the night’s over, and I thought, “Fuck yeah, Shakespeare meets Black Sabbath,” and, “Why aren’t there some better plays out there about what life is really like in prison,” and, finally, “Yep, it rocked.” And I realized that I totally forgot who was playing what a long time ago. That, to me, is a sign of some damned good theater.

(This review is for the performance that took place the night of December 6th, 2012. It continues through February 9th.)

Mini-review – Julius Caesar – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Noel Coward Theater

August 12, 2012

It’s hard not to get a little more excited about shows when you can see them building up day by day. This is what led me to get tickets for the RSC’s Julius Caesar at the Noel Coward theater – something about watching the load in made me much more excited about this show than I might have been, given that I’m way past my standard annual Shakespeare limit (four so far and I doubled up on Henry V). But I’d never seen this play before, and they had some seats going for £12.50 (if you buy them at the box office; otherwise there’s an extortionate £2 charge per ticket), so I sweet talked my roommate and next thing you know there we are about the 2nd night of previews. Woo hoo! (Note: I couldn’t find any discounts for this show anywhere, but the highest tier of the gods was closed, so if I’d bought there I would have done better than for my irritatingly restricted side balcony seat – much leaning forward was necessary.) I didn’t really know anything about this show, other than having someone tell me it was an all-black cast.

The setting for this version of Julius Caesar is most decidedly Africa: to me, it felt a bit like what I might expect of South Africa (especially with the rubber tire “necklace”), but the shamanic figure and music didn’t give me a solid setting: it was more of a feeling of any place where dictators might rise and fall, where armies of men stood ready to fight at a moment, where the populace was ready to cheer or riot as necessary. It seemed very much to be Anycountry, but for the undercurrent of a total dedication to freedom and rejecting tyranny: that made it Rome, ancient Rome all the way, no matter what clothes anyone was wearing or what sort of guns they carried. Shakespeare’s words held true, and even in a world of cement blocks crumbled by war, to me we were a few blocks from the Forum, talking about a way of life and an ethos that had long since vanished.

The sad thing, really, is that the words of this production were frequently hard to enjoy. Without studying the work beforehand, it often happens that you just have to let things slip in Shakespeare and figure you’ll catch up with it later when you read the script; but I was really struggling to hear what people were saying on stage. I think the ambient noise and the frequent shouting were just turning things into a mush. Still, the emotional power shone through: of Marc Antony’s manipulation; of Brutus’ abuse of Cassius; of the murderous power of a mob. It all goes by in an incredibly rush, though oddly they’ve decided to put an interval in shortly after the assassination scene (this not present during the Stratford run). Still … a strong production and a good show, nicely framed to show the key elements of truth in the political world of the present.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 10th, 2012. It continues through September 15th.)