Firstly, apologies for not writing/updating this blog in the past few months – to say things have been hectic would be somewhat of an understatement. However, things have more or less calmed down, which means that I finally had time to head to my happy place – the theatre; this time to see Julius Caesar.
Whilst I’ve read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar before, I’d never seen it on stage so wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I happily gave away all my money for tickets to Nicholas Hytner’s modern-day production at The Bridge Theatre. What I didn’t really expect, was to be on the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the stage for over two hours, watching an exceptional cast bring the story to life. Usually, when I watch Shakespeare, I dip in and out – I can’t help it. Even whilst watching Andrew Scott’s recent performance as Hamlet, I’m pretty sure I was thinking about what I had for dinner whilst he delivered his chilling soliloquies.
Yet, there was something about this particular performance that pulled me in (and I promise it wasn’t just the fact that I was only a few meters away from Ben Wishaw). The basic plot of a dictator murdered to bring peace to a nation but his death bringing about complete anarchy instead seemed almost a little to close for comfort. Whilst Hytner stuck to the script and didn’t specifically point the finger at any current politicians, he still delivered a performance which tied very nicely into the current political climate. In the programme, he has included an essay written by Peter Holland, a professor in the USA, about the striking similarities between Shakespeare’s Caesar and America’s Donald Trump. By including this, he is obviously not suggesting that the only way to overthrow a dictator is to murder them, but simply showing some of the characteristics shown by dictators. Indeed the actors of this production have been quite open about the relevance of the play in today’s populist movement.
David Calder, who plays Caesar does so in a way which makes the audience see him not as the vicious dictator that he is, but more of a lovable politician who has won over the hearts and minds of the population. It’s only as the dialogue deepens do you become aware of his autocratic and problematic ruling habits. Ben Wishaw plays Brutus – the socialist who is out not for himself but for the “good of the people”, and of course the one who gives Caesar the treacherous and fatal blow. In some ways, Brutus is the modern politician who does what he thinks is right but also has an incredible amount self-doubt when questioned about his actions. Cassius and Casca are both played by women, which adds an extra layer to the once male-dominated play. One of the best things about this performance is the immersive aspect of it. If you are lucky enough to get a standing ticket then you become part of the play. You are part of the crowd at the concert, part of Caesar’s adoring fanbase, and part of the mob when things take a turn for the worse. You are right next to the actors when they deliver their lines and feel as though you too are part of the production.
This is one of the only times I have felt fully pulled in by a play. From the first scene, I was acutely aware of the sense of policial urgency faced by the characters and the sheer desperation which underpinned their actions. I liked Caesar but agreed with Brutus. I thought that Cassius was too fast to act and that Mark Anthony was incredibly manipulative. It’s very rare that a play can make someone feel all this, and this production managed to, whilst all the while staying true to the classic plotlines which are what this Shakespearean tragedy is known for.