Bridge Theatre, London – until 15 April 2018
Broadcast live on NT Live on 22 March
SEVEN THINGS I LEARNED AT JULIUS CAESAR:
- The Bridge Theatre is still a lovely venue, and the flexibility of staging is astonishing.
- It’s great that £15 day tickets are available and young audiences can get up close to popular talents like Ben Whishaw and Michelle Fairley.
- Brutus’ apartment is furnished half by John Lewis and half from a skip.
- Casca the conspirator and Cinna the poet are a lot more engaging than anyone else.
- Once Caesar’s dead and war breaks out, it’s a free for all and it’s extremely difficult to know who’s a loyalist, who’s a rebel, who’s just a stagehand in a flak jacket, and who’s fighting whom. Or for what.
- Shakespeare does like a lot of people to die at the end.
- Ben Whishaw’s hair really needs a wash.
David Calder’s Caesar is an ageing populist crunching soundbites in a biker jacket and red baseball cap. If that’s a Trumpish reference it’s a dangerous metaphor, because the civil war that followed Caesar’s demise did no one any good as his conspirators fought among themselves and precipitated the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Collapse is something of a theme in Nicholas Hytner’s brutish production – a couple of patrons were stretchered off the pitch fainting in early performances – and after the thrill of the opening bombast with the band thrashing the White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ the pace sagged for an hour until Caesar was assassinated and war broke out.
Whishaw is fine if predictably bookish and brooding as Brutus, Fairley not quite his equal as co-conspirator Cassius, but Adjoa Andoh is the breakout star as a superbly enunciated and impassioned Casca. LAMDA graduate Fred Fergus, doubling Brutus’ batman Lucius and Cinna the poet, may be a young actor to watch, too.
Julius Caesar really isn’t Shakespeare’s best play, there’s very little poetry in the lines and after the assassination the plot’s far from clear. Having women play some of the traditionally male characters is interesting but also affects the dynamics in the conspiracy and on the battlefield: there are suggestions of affection between Brutus and Cassius which might have had even more frisson if, for example, the openly gay Whishaw had been bromancing someone like Russell Tovey.
But the Bridge definitely makes it accessible.