Julius Caesar

Mon 14th – Sat 26th August 2017

reviews

Claire Leibovich

at 11:35 on 16th Aug 2017

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Essential Theatre‘s bring Shaekspeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ to the Fringe and place six women on the stage to enact this universally relevant play about power, betrayal and sacrifice. The efficient design is well thought through and the acting solid, yet this show did not fascinate me. Undoubtedly, the directing team (Fleur Kilpatrick, director, and Joey Birford, assistant director and stage manager) are laudable for their scenic choices; the result was minimalistic yet dramatically effective as they made the most out of the small space of the venue. The play was staged in the round and a large red carpet diagonally laid on the stage floor created more space for the characters to walk hurriedly, or stroll majestically, while reinforcing the striking effect of these entrances. There was absolutely no set save three small blocks used to sit down or make noise. The costumes were also sparse, and more symbolic than realistic, but nonetheless to the point.

However, this scarcity made it harder to follow the intrigue, at least in the first two acts that lead to Caesar’s assassination, and this is especially problematic for someone who does not already know the play. In that aspect the sound design by Justin Gardam helped a great deal, mainly by introducing scenes clearly. Yet more melodic music, like the snippet of ‘What should we do with the drunken sailor’, would have assisted even further the different settings.

The acting was solid and yet slightly frustrating as it did not do entire justice to the Bard’s masterpiece. The group ensembles were the most convincing when they used physical theatre (for instance in the Caesar’s murder scene or the crowd at his funeral), and the actors seemed to be comfortable with each other and enjoy interacting. Casca (Alex Aldrich) achieved the hard feat of being comical without appearing to make the audience even the tiniest bit uncomfortable. Helen Hopkins managed with admirable grace and subtlety to portray an ambiguous Caesar and a vicious Octavius. On the other hand, Sophie Lampel’s Marc Anthony felt one-dimensional and there were no clear transitions in her speech at Caesar’s funeral, which I realised later on is supposed to be a rhetorical sleight of hand and expose her treachery. Amanda LaBonte (Brutus) becomes likeable enough towards the end for us to sympathise with her, but she does not convey the noble side of the character, nor the tragedy she incurs. Nonetheless they were some emotional moments, for instance when Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus or when Brutus and Casseus reconcile after arguing.

All in all, ‘Julius Caesar’ is certainly worth seeing; it is food for thought and will make you hungry for more Shakespeare. Essential Theatre’s production showed skill and professionalism, however it lacked the central tension that makes a tragedy great and could have done more to explore all the complexities of characters and meanings.

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Eloise Heath

at 13:04 on 23rd Aug 2017

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Essential Theatre’s all female production of ‘Julius Caesar’ is poised and atmospheric. The gender dynamics are interesting, and yet never eclipse the beauty of the language or the drama of the plot. All in all, a highly accomplished and sharply executed piece of theatre.

The casting is not gender-blind: all the ‘he’s are turned to ‘she’s, and the mentions of a ‘king’ to a ‘queen’. So, here, not only are the actors women so too are the characters. This choice makes for nuanced changes in meaning throughout. I chuckled at the lines in which Caesar begrudgingly says of Cassius “would that he were fatter”, playing in so well to a stereotypical trope rolled out so often in portrays of female friendships. The moments of affection between the characters, physical or otherwise, were also interesting; how are our expectations of affection different between female and male friendships? This production makes one consider the ways in which we conceive of female homosocial interactions and relationships. However, these are dynamics are left for us to tease out for ourselves, never patronisingly spelt our or foregrounded to the detriment of the language or plot.

Indeed, gender is not at all the only notable quality of this group of actors. The cast all give very strong performances, speaking Shakespearean verse with a laudable clarity and energy. Helen Hopkins makes an excellent Caesar. Whilst the part is famously small for an eponymous role, Hopkins is so commanding and charismatic a presence as to make it a noteworthy portrayal. However, the show is completely stolen by Devon Lang-Wilton with her outstanding turn as Cassius. Delivering her lines with a poise and a clarity of intention, she is a joy to watch.

There are many excellent touches in this production. The costume and sound design are both excellent, and the minimalist set works well. The set up of the stage in the round feels very natural, and iconic moments were handled deftly. The stabbing scene, for instance, so famously ambitious in its stage directions was choreographed to great effective, and pulled off with impressive physicality.

I have only a few small reservations. The crowd scenes fall slightly flat, due to a lack of actors to pull them off. Three actors sit at corners of the stage during Mark Anthony’s oration, intoning the crowd’s reactions. I appreciate this is a valiant and committed effort to evoke a crowd using only three, but feel a larger cast would have lifted these moments immeasurably. Personally, I found Alex Aldrich’s Casca a little overbearing. Her physicality and facial expressions, geared of course for the more comedic role, seem to me more suited to a less intimate space. In the close confines of the Space on the mile, they felt a little over exaggerated.

Having said this, I would recommend Essential Theatre’s ‘Julius Caesar’. Tight and engaging, it is a credit to the company.

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