Review: Julius Caesar
Image courtesy Mad Wolf Theatre
Alex Bird - Cassius & Flavius
Niall Burns - Mark Anthony & Lucius
Aimee Kember - Julius Caesar & Portia
Jasmin Keshavarzi - Cinna, Soothsayer & Octavius
Matt Penson - Brutus
Aimee Pollock - Casca, Calpurnia & Marullus
William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in one act!
Same story. Same words. In one act. Blink and you'll miss it.
Shakespeare can often feel intimating or only for a select few.
However Shakespeare is exciting, thrilling and (most importantly) for EVERYONE.
Fearful that Caesar will become a tyrant, his friends plot to assassinate him in order to save Rome.
But the conspirators' high principles clash with personal malice and ambition, and as they vie to manipulate the mob, the nation is plunged into bloody civil war.
A taut, profound drama exploring power and betrayal, Julius Caesar exposes the chasm between public appearance, political rhetoric and bitter reality.
I readily admit to being a sucker for anything that involves the Romans or Roman history.
In spite of many defects, the civilisation the Romans concocted managed to achieve astonishing feats in almost every niche of human activity including engineering and the administration of a massive empire to name but two.
And though their political system was in many ways flawed, it was nevertheless built on the idea of government by the people through voting with (at least before the arrival of the emperors) the aim of governing without kings (though dictators were appointed in times of crisis).
But Julius Caesar was going to change all that - even after death as it turned out.
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar gives us a glimpse into the world of Roman politics, taking us back to the year 44 BCE - a couple of years after Caesar had been made perpetual dictator.
Shakespeare's play is around 2,600 lines long which translates into stage time of anything in the 2 to 3 hour region (a recent version at The Bridge Theatre had a running time of 2 hours without an interval).
In this production by Mad Wolf Theatre we get a much shorter version with a playing time around the 75 minute mark.
That statistic on its own might indicate a savagery in the editing department akin to the savagery in the way Caesar's enemies dispatch him.
If that sounds like the play has been (metaphorically) murdered or torn to shreds, it hasn't.
In fact, it has been fairly carefully clipped to create a kind of 'Julius Caesar - the best bits' or, at least, the bits that matter.
And the best bits (as far as I remember them) are pretty much all in tact - probably minus an odd word or phrase here and there, and maybe a few minor characters.
Purists might well baulk at this cut-down version, but it proves easily digestible even for those whose knowledge of the basic plot is negligible or non-existent.
An ensemble of 6 cover all the roles here with most of them (apart from Matt Penson who plays Brutus) popping up as Roman citizens or in different guises as required.
Now I admit to a penchant for Romans in togas, but in small scale productions that's probably asking too much unless the company is going to resort to charity shop sheets to stand-in for the Roman clothing best known to us.
So the actors here are dressed in modernish suits and other attire that drag the famous story somewhere into the modernity of our present age.
As with dress, the possibility of having a Roman forum adorned with doric columns is also asking too much in a production that has to cope with considerable budgetary and spatial constraints.
So the setting is really an empty space decorated on the back wall with posters about Caesar that suitably sport graffiti.
And the actors melt in and out of the spotlight by snuggling themselves under sleeping bags while waiting for their next appearance.
That alludes, of course, to the homelessness that sadly surrounds us in the present - but it's also a neat means to avoid slowing the action with languid entrances and exits.
And this production is anything but lethargic, drawn-out or sluggish.
On the contrary it's a pacy and energetic version of the Bard's work that is centred on some very impressive acting.
In fact, there's plenty to admire overall here in terms of all the various dramatic aspects of the production.
The company aim 'to use their limitations to their advantage'.
By that, I think they mean limitations in terms of budget for they have few limitations in terms of their acting or general creative abilities.
That doesn't mean that they get everything right here.
In particular, I didn't buy Caesar's screams on being butchered by his political friends, turned enemies.
Though the scene portrays Caesar's foibles as a mere human, it works to counter his overwhelming obsession with personal dignity which, in my view, wouldn't allow for screaming even while being hacked to death.
In spite of the title, this is a play largely focused on Brutus and Matt Penson rises to the considerable challenge of the role with authoritative fortitude and elegantly impressive control - a fine and wholly convincing performance.
Mr Penson is eminently well-supported by the rest of the company who all deliver well-tuned, admirable and watchable performances.
Of course, almost anyone who's been following the machinations in Westminster over the past 4 years or so will recognise the political tensions and motivations underlying this play.
That makes this show enormously relevant and resonant, which adds to the overall multi-layered nature and appeal of the piece.
Mad Wolf Theatre's production is thus recommended and certainly well-worth a visit on its own account, but it also clearly indicates that this company is one to keep a close eye on in the future.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for The Lion & Unicorn Theatre
Our show listing for Julius Caesar
Read our reviews' policy