17 September 2011

Review: Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar
Bell Shakespeare
7 September 2011
Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre
to 17 September, and touring

Julius Caesar isn't the sexist of Shakespeare's writings. It's one of the politics and togas plays that's favoured in high schools for its large cast, relative shortness and the "lend me your rears" pun. Bell Shakespeare brave this neglected history play and bring it into a recognisable world of factions and power suits with many shades of grey.

JC is a wordy play about the power of words. Most of the action takes place off, so its success lies in making the on stage story about the decisions and dilemmas facing those reporting and those hearing.

This adaption, by director Peter Evans and dramaturge Kate Mulvany (who also plays Cassius), is about the group of conspirators and is structured to ensure it's about people dealing with the consequences of their choices, rather than reacting to the changing will of the masses. And the masses have been reduced to voices.

This lets it become a personal story that soars towards the end as Brutus (Colin Moody) is left alone to face the new world he created. (Purists be damned, the choice to bring the ending back is brilliant.)  This would be even stronger if we were with Brutus from the beginning. Act one suffers from not choosing a side. Breaking to interval as Caska (Gareth Reeves) declares, "Speak hands for me!” I wasn't sure if we were meant to be scared for Caesar (Alex Mengelet channeling a Godfather-like Brando) or excited that the faction looked likely to succeed in toppling their leader. We love Shakespeare's stories because they explore so many perspectives, but none of this complexity is lost by the choice to interpret and focus on a hero.

It's also a play known for its wishy washy chicks. Mulvany's Cassius obviously addresses the balance, but Calphurnia (Rebecca Bower) and Portia (Katie-Jean Harding) are far more persuasive than often seen and leave us wishing that Caesar and Brutus listened to their wives.

As this Rome believes in omens and gods Evans' direction allows for a fluidity that allows for "strange and wonderful signs", but some choices felt more style than substance, especially when the slow-mo entrance/exits took focus off the story action and on to the mechanics of getting actors on and off the stage.

Julius Caesar is touring, so each venue will adapt to the staging in different ways and it's a minor quibble for a production that lets heart, dilemma and regrets drive its history.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com

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