Bridge Theatre, London – until 15 April 2018
Broadcast live on NT Live on 22 March
Ok, it’s time for complete honesty, Shakespeare is not normally my thing. The distinct lack of jazz hands, many previous bad experiences of not understanding the sub-context or even the story, has put me off. So what made me want to see this production of Julius Caesar, I can hear you asking?
Principally it is the stellar cast combined with my need to see the latest purpose-built theatre to open. A fresh, visually pleasing expanse greets you with friendly staff and foyer bar/cafe. As you go into the auditorium the seats are set on three levels whilst the ‘performance space’ has plenty of room for standing on the groundlings’ premise.
We are greeted with merchandise sellers with their carts and front of house security guards, the feeling is of anticipation. This sets the scene for a band to open, inciting the crowd (groundlings) to cheer on Caesar (David Calder) as he jubilantly returns from battle. In modern-day clothing but true to Shakespeare’s written word, it has to be the most engaging and attention-grabbing Shakespearean production I’ve seen.
After this initial scene, it’s fair to say, my heart then sank a little. The pace seemed to diminish somewhat and the thought of a further two hours, without an interval pep up, was a little daunting.
This may have been as I was seated and not in the throng of the action. Fortunately, it gradually picked up again mainly to do with the introduction and engagement of some actors. For me, two of these in particular were Michelle Fairley (Caius Cassius) and Adjoa Andoh (Casca). Strong, feisty woman with complexity, purpose and drive is something I can definitely relate to and Fairley and Andoh portrayed these characters with gusto.
David Morrissey as Mark Antony gave the perfect performance. Morrissey delivered the iconic speeches with vigour and purpose. As always he proved why he is one of our best actors not only on-screen but in live performance. Whilst Ben Whishaw as Marcus Brutus was as expected both engaging and well-suited to the role.
It is undeniable that the cast here are all at the top of their profession but for me it was the overall experience at the Bridge Theatre. The performance space is innovative, exciting, welcoming and engaging. You have a feeling of inclusion in the performance. Especially the standing audience, I can only imagine what it must feel like to be included in the thrust and chaos of the battle scenes.
Talking of the battle scenes, for me, they became a little too chaotic at times. But this also then made me delve into a deeper thought process. It made me realise that whilst thought to be written circa 1599 it is as relevant today as it was then. Today we call it terrorism, a coup or war but it amounts to the same. One persons belief and need or desire for power, either for the good of the people or for their own purpose.
Photo Credit Manuel Harlan
So would I go to more Shakespeare after this experience yes I would. More importantly could I see myself as a regular visitor to the Bridge Theatre? That has to be an emphatic YES! I loved this performance space and all that it has to offer.