DramaLondonReviewShakespeare

Julius Caesar – The Bridge Theatre

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

“Do This!” Scream signs and posters around the set that encourage and hector the viewer to simultaneously take action themselves, and also rely on Caesar for provision – “When Caesar says, “do this,” it is performed”

As the rock band (formed of actors from the play, and very decent) at the support/victory rally which begins the play start pumping out high-impact tunes, and the “Do This!” posters are flying proudly, there’s a moment of chilling familiarity. Mindless slogans and cheering, pliant, crowds (in this case, the 300 audience members standing in the “pit”) make the inference to modern populist politics clear, and it’s a strong thread that runs throughout the two-hour show.

David Calder’s Caesar is a man we can have great sympathy for – a leader who loves his country with physical and human vulnerabilities – not ones made of policy or spite. Supported by the loyal but dislikable Marc Antony – David Morrissey turning in an excellent performance (especially his funeral oration) as a sort of energetic and useful Steve Bannon – he seems to have mass approval. Though of course, not all are content. Set against him are the intellectual elites of Rome – the scheming Cassius (Michelle Fairley), the hot-blooded Trebonius (Abraham Popoola) and the idealistic Brutus (Ben Wishaw – super performance as a reluctant figurehead of a rebel movement, who proves a failure as an actual leader). It’s always the best thing about a production of Julius Caesar – discovering fresh who the hero is in each different presentation. Here, we’re left without one. Only a stylish, effective hammering on the sour note the play always ends on – populations get caught in the ambitions of the powerful.

With The Bridge’s modular and adaptable floor system the set (a fantastic creation from Bunny Christie) sees rises and falls to support or shape the action – unstable ground for unstable times. Shifting and pushing the standing audience around, and making them complicit in all that happens brings a lot of energy to the huge room – configured for a performance in the round with three gallery layers above.

Bangs, gunshots, leaflet drops, propaganda, pushy squads of crowd control crews (the set operations team come on stage at the end for very well deserved applause) and a relentless pace all conspire with some fantastic performances and Nicholas Hytner’s energetic direction to produce a piece of theatre that packs a real punch. It’s not subtle about the points it makes to current politics, but neither are the politics themselves.

Runs until 15 April 2018. | Image: Manuel Harlan

 

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