Julius Caesar – Smock Alley, Dublin

Director: Robbie O’Raw

Writer: William Shakespeare

Reviewer: Liam Harrison

“Death, a necessary end, will come when it will come”

Robbie O’Raw and Tartarus have relocated the power struggles and deceptions of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to gangland Dublin. Barry Kelleghan’s authoritative Caesar casts a domineering figure, looming over the set of a moody nightclub, while the scenes are punctuated by the broody tones of Alt-J’s ‘Hunger of the Pine’ – “I’m a female rebel”.

The lyrics are not merely incidental. Brutus is recast as a woman, played by Fiona Coughlan, now a ‘female rebel’ with the added implication of being a ‘[dis]honourable woman’, misleading the fallen Caesar. Her part in the plot, however, can feel a little flat and atonal – there is a kind of banality in the steadiness of her actions. In contrast, Aidan White’s Mark Antony traces a fascinating trajectory, as his character develops gradually, peaking in his duplicitous speech to incite the Romans (or clubbers) to rise against Caesar’s backstabbers.

The gangland analogy is a fitting one, as both worlds are populated with deified figureheads who aspire to rise above the petty concerns of mortality, while beyond their control the dogs of war are let slip. Nonetheless, the updated visuals – the excessive drinking and range of props – can at times detract from the power of Shakespeare’s words.

Special mention must go to Conor Miley who possesses a great presence as he flits between the different roles absorbed by Lepidus in this production – from subtly warning Caesar against attending the senate, to openly thirsting for blood and war. In the latter throes of the play he wields a hammer which is charged with all the anticipation of one of Chekhov’s guns – and it is chillingly pressed against the temple of an enemy’s skull. The visceral image of metal on temple encapsulates a mood of violence which is bloodily present throughout the play.

The Smock Alley’s seating scatters a handful of the audience away from the stalls and up onto the walkway which wraps around the theatre. Unfortunately the view from above is terribly restricted by fencing and poles, rendering the experience similar to watching a film on a cracked screen. This only affects a few audience members, but such a poor arrangement lets them and the performance down.

Runs until 2nd April 2016 | Image: courtesy of Smock Alley

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