Writer: Oliver Myers
Director: Amelia Hursey
For a time, the Welsh town of Caerleon – or Isca as it was previously known, was on the lips of countless Roman-Britons as a vitally significant military fortress. Now a scenic, charming area of the nation, the history has never been truly erased, but it wasn’t all horseman and legionnaires. No, like any community, Caerleon was a town of love, lust, humour, and scheming…
No good deed comes without selfish intentions. Oliver Myers places dissent and opportunistic influence at the heart of Aaron and Julia as equally as the titular characters. Aaron, a Jewish Christian, is a fresh face in and around the area that fits rather precisely with the local bishop Adelfius’ plans to brand Christianity into the heathenistic ways of the Welsh.
Principally a comedy, Aaron and Julia drag the ancient realms of the Roman Empire into contemporary satire and tongue-in-cheek political humour. Remarkably adept and clever, Myers’ script retains an edge throughout, an enviable feat but one the cast struggles to keep sharp. It isn’t all visceral commentary and contemporary parallels, however, as it wouldn’t be a trip down Blighty history without a few genitalia gags. And mercifully, they aren’t too low hanging fruit, coming over more as a classical interpretation in the strokes of Lysistrata.
As the young, impressionable Roman noble Julia, Danica Corns certainly deserves their role as the high-born character – by and large a significant force in the production. The control is adept and without question, turning the small tonal changes in her voice to alter the humour and engage more with the audience. Counteracting this, Corns’ moments of the abrasive relationship Julia shares with Aaron highlight a less canny grasp of performance from Paolo Samaha who struggles to bring a sense of self and push out against a cast of unique characters or strong performers.
Even those without a significant or populous role have a fallback within the script. Martin Sweeney’s Adelfius is quite as familiar at home on the stage as they would be in the Government’s front bench – an inconsiderate, though adept, manipulator of words and emotions. T’rell Du’aine Robinson and Bianca Mulligan, too benefit, from distinctly more in-depth or interesting characters; Amelia Hursey’s direction and staging however limit the interactions and movements of the cast with a stilted production lacking momentum.
But the keen-eyed able to take their eyes from the plethora of impressive and rather phallic costumes may spot one or two of the productions crucial jokes. Aaron & Julia isn’t only seeding wit into the writing, sneaking in some background visual gags in posters, slogans, and signs. Linguistically, language to plays a crucial role in the make-up of the humour, tickling the anglophiles as equally as the ten or so unfortunate sods who also took Latin.
Streaming to the contemporary world direct from Roman Britain, the filmmaking hasn’t caught up with the rest. Framing is awkward in times, often a straight clean shot of performers but occasionally shifting to an unnecessary angle and losing someone’s left side. They are few and far between, but the camera is just far enough to fade out distinct facial reactions but regrettably close enough to pick up on failures.
How little things change. The satire of politics, influential figures and the aristocracy never ceases to impress upon audiences. And regardless of the guillotines, revolutions and rebellions, nothing stings more than a lacerating tongue-in-cheek script. Aaron and Julia possess promise, a tremendous one with a solid script but certainly needs to tidy the skirted edges before it joins the ranks of history’s satirical texts.
Available here until 10 June 2021