Starring Alex Menglet, Collin Moody, Daniel Frederiksen, Gareth Reeves, Kate Mulvany, Benedict Hardie
Directed by Peter Evans
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Bell Shakespeare
Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre, 20 July 2011
This is a modern take on one of Shakespeare’s dryest and most political plays. Julius Caesar tells the story of the plot to kill Rome’s most legendary leader, Julius Caesar. Simply put, Brutus (Moody) and Caius (Mulvany) conspire to murder Ceasar, seeing him as too much of a threat to Rome, and an obvious favourite of its citizens.
After the bloody assassination of Julius (involving much white chalk and pacy fight choreography) by Brutus, Caius, Trebonius (Hardie), and Caska (Reeves), Rome is plunged into uncertainty and chaos. Mark Antony (Frederiksen), Caesar’s young trainee, is devastated at the loss, but soon bounces back with an inspiring speech at Caesar’s funeral to the citizens of Rome, creating mischief and even more uproar.
This leads to a huge war between Caska and Brutus and the other members of the Rome’s political circle. Eventually, like in many Shakespearean plays, everyone comes to a fatal end - well, everyone apart from Mark Antony and Caesar's friend Octavius.
Those diehard Shakespeare fans that were listening intently to the words would have realised that almost the whole second act of the play was, in fact, not Shakespeare. It was instead Plutarch, who originally inspired Shakespeare with his historical essays and bibliographies.
Shakespeare, so legend says, was attracted to Plutarch because of his technique of putting more emphasis on character and morality, and so Shakespeare begun to turn Plutarch’s material into a play known as Julius Caesar. For Bell Shakespeare’s adaptation they researched Plutarch’s essays and relied more on his words instead of Shakespeare’s in the second act.
The original script featuring over 40 characters was firstly reduced to fit the cast of just ten. Director Peter Simons and Kate Mulvany then started from scratch, rewriting the script line by line. They completed thorough research into every character, looking into their past: their parents and children, their demise and the parts they each played in history.
Simons and Mulvaney then turned to Plutarch, watched movies that were inspired by Julius Caesar, and went to exhibitions that portrayed Shakespeare’s essence. From there they began the journey of the adaptation that was to lead to the final performance and script.
As part of its season, Julius Caesar toured for just over five months and visited 27 locations across six states with their monochromatic, sophisticated, dramatic modern version of Shakespeare’s most notorious play.
All of the characters were dressed in modern-day business clothes to emphasise the political theme of the play. The set was simple but symbolic: an area of carpet surrounded by rows of chairs. When it came time to go to war the space transformed into the battlefield with the chairs representing the two armies in battle.
In the middle of the stage there was a sculpture of an old colosseum and throughout the second act the company went about constructing scaffolding around the colosseum, almost two storeys high, and at the climax, they dropped a banner of a new colosseum, which symbolised the birth of a new empire, with Caesar, Brutus and Caius all dead.
The two actors who stood out for me were Menglet, who played Julius as a Godfather-like figure, very much like Marlon Brando who played the original Godfather in the 1972 film, and Mulvany, who played Caius as a female instead of a man, as the character is more commonly portrayed.
The cast consisted of Australia’s best born and bred actors (and a bit of Russian and New Zealand acting too), with the majority of the cast graduates from either the National Institute of Dramatic Arts or the Victorian College of the Arts. The acting was impeccable with its technical marriage of modern physicality and traditional language.
A sophisticated play that Shakespeare fans will love. If you’re not a die-hard fan, you may enjoy it, but perhaps not appreciate the true significance of the story Bell Shakespeare are telling.
3 and a half out of 5.
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Articles Written by Amber
Reviews written by Amber
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