Bridge Theatre, London – until 15 April 2018
Broadcast live on NT Live on 22 March
Guest reviewer: Heather Deacon
An immersive and ever roaming production of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar should pique the interest of any Shakespeare sort-of-fan, but throw in a killer cast of some of TV’s most talented stars and a stunning venue to boot and it becomes unmissable.
Nicholas Hytner’s production has an almost politically apocalyptic setting with its nods to the controversial leaders of today, complete with excessive red flags, branded red baseball caps and mist growing steadily as we stumble with the characters into chaos.
This setting is completed by the standing audience staring up at the moving stages, bustled about by urgent stage managers and roaring insults, chants and “CAESAR!” with the cast members.
The powerhouse cast includes Ben Whishaw as a complex and sometimes overwrought Brutus who is glorious to see so up close with his twitches and frowns as he contemplates the options and reads his Stalin biographies.
Michelle Fairley is Cassius, Brutus’ cunning co-leader of the coup, subtly hysterical in her bid to execute the terrible deed. Fairley has an incredible presence, perfectly encapsulating both the seedy manipulator and the faithful friend, for so often can people be both.
Adjoa Andoh’s bad-ass of a Casca is as quick to wit as to draw a weapon. David Morrissey is Mark Anthony, here portrayed as a rebel rouser, joining the street band who open the play and encouraging the rise of Octavius at its end.
Octavius was a pleasure to watch as Kit Young took the role after the majority of the play in the ensemble. He really comes into his own as this cocky nephew of Caesar, primed with balloons aplenty, as the metaphorical curtain falls, to become a similarly lauded leader (because it ended so well for his uncle).
Caesar himself is a perfect casting with David Calder encompassing a man who could be deemed both a strong, brave leader or an arrogant tyrant, depending on whose asides one is more inclined to listen to.
Hytner directs with as much blockbuster flair as he can muster from his incredible cast, as do the stage managers who direct the plebeian audience in the pit. Surrounded by those with seated tickets and lorded over by scene after scene of masterclasses in the craft, the cheap seats are without doubt the best, even if you’re very aware of your knees at the two hour finish.
Bunny Christie – known for her work on The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time with Finn Ross – uses the moving block set up of the gorgeous Bridge Theatre to take us from fancy pants villa to a bright and bustling Colosseum utilising the beauty of a big black box to somehow surpass the ornate West End proscenium theatres just up the river.
This epic show is worth every foot shuffle and slightly bad back, even if only to applaud the absolutely knackered stage managers who downplay their delight at the applause from these acting giants. And with day tickets available, the play is accessible to all. It’s just cool, man.