ROME 3000 (Julius Caesar) – Camden Fringe, Canal Cafe Theatre

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Iwan Bond

Any Shakespeare purist will be mightily worried when this Julius Caesar begins with some interpretive dance by two actors wearing gas masks followed by some loud singing with undecipherable lyrics by all seven cast members. Anxiety levels are heightened when the thought of an early escape is hindered by the Canal Cafe Theatre’s awkward arrangement of cabaret tables and chairs. But the purist needn’t worry. This J.C. is played relatively straight.

It’s those expecting something different who may be disappointed, The play’s new title suggests that this Julius Caesar will be set in the future or, at least, modernised in some way, but the only updating is the blue plastic bag that is used to kill the eponymous character. And those, encouraged by the first song, expecting gig theatre will be let down, too, as the few songs only serve to break the illusion of conspiracy and demagoguery that the cast otherwise tries hard to create.

Regardless that Shed Theatre are attempting to do something new, Shakespeare shines through, and all actors speak the Bard’s lines with ease, ensuring that this Julius Caesar is clearly told. Tor Leijten’s Brutus is particularly sympathetic and the knowledge that he has done something wrong for the right reason burns bright here. Leijten is visibly weighted with guilt by the end. Also lucid is Florence Guy as Cassius, and his smooth talk of liberty is no match for Brutus’s idealism.

Funnily, Evan L. Barker’s Caesar is a coke-snorting, lager-swilling thug in an Everton FC away shirt. Only when he tells Calpurnia that he will heed her dreams of his murder do we see a flicker of kindness under his machismo. Otherwise, he’s a bit of a dick and this makes it hard to understand why Mark Antony grieves him so keenly, even singing an Oasis-y song about how they were brothers. Alun Rees does his best with Mark Antony but ultimately is too shouty and emotional to persuade the masses to fight against Caesar’s killers.

Other performances are hampered by some inevitable blocking on the small stage, but surely Portia and Casca don’t need to deliver all their lines with their backs to the audience? And with no raking in the auditorium all actors should be standing, not sat down, when talking. Perhaps these issues can be sorted by the time the show moves to The Cockpit later on in the Camden Fringe.

To condense Shakespeare’s most contemporary play into 80mins without diluting too much of its power is no mean feat and even the usually dreary battle scenes are here charged with some electricity. With such strong storytelling, Shed Theatre’s show may be better if they ditched the title and the songs. Or, on the other hand, updated it more, or, again, even turned Julius Caesar more firmly into a piece of gig theatre. At the moment, it’s not quite one thing or another.

Runs 12-13 August 2022 at The Cockpit

The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022

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The big J.C.

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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