Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Diane Page
Diane Page’s new adaptation of Julius Caesar brings gender roles to the forefront of the Globe Theatre’s Summer Season, before the production embarks on a UK Tour.
Page has made deliberate choices within her staging of the show to confront prejudices still prevalent in modern society, such as how we view women in power. This is, in no small part, inspired by the erasure of strong female figures from our history. Fulvia, married to Antony, was a dominant political figure in the late Roman republic and most likely orchestrated Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral which incites the crowd to riot.
This narrative is not represented in Shakespeare’s retelling of the events, however, and instead audiences are often left only with Portia and Calpurnia for female representation, both of whom are defined predominantly by the position of ‘wife’ to their respective husbands. Casting women in powerful roles like Brutus and Cassius only emphasises how little substance the original female characters are given. Portia’s limited narrative, albeit performed wonderfully by Cash Holland, feels even more weak in comparison, yet there is also a freedom for this to be the case when her single (speaking) scene no longer contributes half of the female representation of the piece.
There are many instances throughout the piece in which the intelligent casting choices provoke new subtext and tension within Shakespeare’s words, but a non-verbal interaction in the first act is one of the most effective. Antony, brandishing a beer bottle bare-chested in an obvious nod to the ‘lad’ archetype of modern society, blatantly sexualises Calpurnia right under the nose of the other women. The tension is palpable and this misogyny further fuels the discontentment between Brutus and Cassius when they are left alone.
For a production that is carefully considered in a lot of ways, the design of the piece falls somewhat short. Simple prop and costume choices effectively represent the concept of an ‘alternate modern society’, but the stage design is noticeably sparse. This minimalistic staging makes complete sense within the context of the show being developed for touring purposes, however it is a shame to see the Globe Theatre not used to its full potential. A statue of Caesar stands centre stage throughout Act 1, along with some cloth hangings at the rear of the stage, and this is admittedly effective as an embodiment of how large Caesar’s presence looms. Yet, for the second half, even this centrepiece is removed and there is a bareness to the production. Audiences expect a bit more of a spectacle from a visit to the Globe Theatre.
The performances of the cast loom large, however, and the ensemble of eight has absolutely no difficulty commanding the space. Casting by Becky Paris is top tier with every performer bringing exceptional energy and clear communication of language which can feel inaccessible for some audiences. As Brutus, Anna Crichlow is particularly brilliant at unlocking Shakespeare’s words, whilst Charlotte Bate as Cassius emotes (and manipulates) with captivating conviction and heart. Jack Myers as Casca also deserves recognition for his skilful multi-roling and brilliant comic timing, which many of the cast also exhibit, however Myers’ consistently engaging performance is a highlight.
The company completely win the audience over and certainly embody the spirit of the Globe’s history as a theatre for the people. While it would be nice to see the production’s aesthetic developed slightly, the performers serve a truly captivating experience which will certainly be a hit on tour.
Runs at the Globe Theatre until 10 September 2022, alongside a UK Tour