Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Gemma Fairlie
Reviewer: David Jobson
It seems pertinent to produce Julius Caesar in this current political climate. Productions have made many parallels with the Roman leader and previous political regimes. In this new production staged at the Holy Trinity Church, the Guildford Shakespeare Company take the obvious route and set the play in a present day hybrid of Britain and America.
The production goes to great lengths to establish the setting and atmosphere. Amid the Holy Trinity Church’s neo-classical architecture, the traverse staging places the audience in the middle of an Americanesque campaign trail.
Campaign posters, TV screens and banners adorn the place lit up in bright red and blue. Stickers are handed out before the show and the cast mingle Among the audience to rouse them up for Caesar as he approaches the podium to make his speeches.
By the interval, however, everything turns sour and falls into civil strife.
Cuts to the text mean that the dialogue swiftly moves along at a steady pace. However, the pomp and ceremony that the production painstakingly establishes does take a toll on the pacing at times, especially when actors have to cross the expanse of traverse staging. Additionally, starting the second act with Cinna the Poet’s death leaves a rather flat note.
And for all the attention to atmosphere and detail, the limitations of the production become clear when it resorts to long stretches of choreographed movement for the battle scenes. A difficult act to pull off after the dramatic first act for sure, but watching characters walk around, occasionally crouch, and wave replica guns around isn’t the most suspenseful.
Nevertheless, it is apparent that Guildford Shakespeare Company aims for a clear reading of the play, and the cast certainly achieves that. The fears of the conspirators are deftly portrayed. Particularly the cynicism Anna Leong Brophy’s Casca illustrates at Caesar declining a crown.
Noel White’s brazen Julius Caesar leads a daring and flashy campaign, while Johanne Murdock’s Brutus, smartly dressed with blonde hair brushed back, watches pensively in the wings. One cannot help but be reminded of recent political figures.
Murdock aptly portrays Brutus’ fears for what Caesar will do with so much power. Spurred on by Chris Porter’s unyielding Cassius, she joins the conspiracy to kill Caesar on the day of the Ides of March, with the inevitable dire consequences.
There’s excellent work from Paula James as the faithful Portia and Jessica Guise as first-lady wannabe Calpurnia. Sarah Groban is excellent as a seemingly deranged Soothsayer, wandering around strapped with bags of rubbish
Jack Wharrier may need to settle down into the text a little more, but he duly presents Mark Antony’s journey from Caesar’s yes-man to a vengeful and manipulating leader. His delivery of the “Let slip the dogs of war” and “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” monologues are certainly passionate
In the end, this is a clear-cut Julius Caesar, setting the politics squarely in modern times. While the translation is rough around the edges, it is so to the point that no one can miss the parallels being made with an event more than 2000 years ago
Running until: 25 February 2017 | Image: Guildford Shakespeare Company