I was pretty excited about seeing this production, including visiting a new theatre, a brilliant cast, having standing tickets to get close to the action, and all the while contributing to my dissertation! We went during previews for the show, before its (now controversial) press night, so I really did have no idea what to expect. Well, I was amazed.
It’s performed in a modern political setting, including Caesar (played by David Calder) presented in direct parallel to Trump (with red caps on sale and all!), but in my opinion this made the play all the more engaging. In fact, if I had to sum up the play’s experiences in one word, it would be just that: ‘engaging’. Our standing tickets only heightened this feeling too, as we were used by the actors to be the people of Rome, whom throughout the play speeches are directed to, encouraging us to shout along to bring a real sense of community.
I was very conscious while writing this review about spoilers – I’m usually not so hesitant, but with the run continuing I don’t want to ruin the brilliant surprises. I will say though, that the way the staging is used is utterly brilliant, and like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s modern, unique and inventive, and certainly made this production for me. The sets move around quite a bit, and with it therefore also the standing audience, including to let the stage managers and actors past us. It was strange at first, but we all quickly got used to being moved about in a way that mirrored Cassius’ manipulation of Brutus.
Being so close and involved in the action was a strange but brilliant experience (although a word of warning: the play is 3 hours with no interval, so wear comfy shoes and be prepared to be uncomfortable by the end.) As a performance in the round, this worked with the promenading audience, and didn’t really matter where you were stood or sat.
The acting performances were strong from everyone: Michelle Fairley, who played a female Cassius, was the epitome of the strong female politician, and subtle in her manipulation of Ben Wishaws’s ignorant Brutus. David Morissey as Mark Anthony stole the show for me, captivating all the audience – although all the actors were very good at making the Early Modern language sound natural.
The Bridge Theatre itself is lovely, with a big foyer and bar that fit everyone waiting – and the view of Tower Bridge lit up as we left was a nice added bonus. This production had me captivated throughout (even despite my aching back by the end). It made me feel shocked, scared, passionate and even outraged far more than a usual trip to the theatre would invoke. As a play, Julius Caesar has never been my favourite, but even so I would not hesitate to return and see it again!