Thursday, October 18, 2018

JULIUS CAESAR - Bell Shakespeare


Written by William Shakespeare – Directed by James Evans
Set and Costume design by Anna Tregloan – Lighting designed by Verity Hampson

Composer and sound designer –Nate Edmondson

Presented by Bell Shakespeare - The Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre -12-20 October,2018.
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The cast of "Julius Caesar" 

In its relentless drive for new resonances and ever more innovative ways of presenting Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare, with this production of “Julius Caesar”, has finally succeeded in rendering at least one of his plays, virtually incomprehensible to anyone other than welded-on Shakespeare devotees.

Anna Tregloan’s  steam-punk set and op-shop costumes, provide no clues as to time, place or status of the characters, and the gender-blind, double (even triple) casting, make it extremely difficult to work out who is playing which part unless a name is mentioned, reducing the play to a series of unfathomable set pieces.  

James Evans, who replaced an indisposed Ivan Donato at short notice for the Canberra season, dominated the stage, physically and vocally, with a fine, well-shaped interpretation as Brutus, demonstrating how interesting the production might have been had any of the rest of the ensemble been able to match his performance.  Only Nick Simpson-Deeks, a passionate and fraught Cassius, came close to challenging Evan’s dominance in their second- act exchange.

Kenneth Ransom as Julius Caesar in Bell Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar". 

Despite his striking resemblance to Barack Obama, and  robbed of any semblance of grandeur by his drab costumes and curious high-pitched vocal delivery, Kenneth Ransom was a strangely disinterested Caesar,  displaying little of the qualities attributed to him by Mark Antony. 

Sara Zwangobani a Mark Antony

Photo: Prudence Upton
Sara Zwangobani provided the high point with her performance of Mark Antony’s famous funeral oration, which was punctuated with thundering crescendo’s from Nate Edmondson’s cinematic score. Although, as she addressed her friends, Romans and countrymen, standing in front of a microphone, on a tiny balcony, the thought that she might at any moment break into “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” seemed a distinct possibility.   

Elsewhere the tiny cast was kept busy scampering around the setting, putting up and pulling down flags and revolutionary banners, and trying unsuccessfully to convince as crowds, and a variety of characters, declaiming speeches with gestures that might have worked had they been wearing togas, but looked rather ridiculous in tee-shirts.

Those willing to puzzle over the complexities of Shakespeare’s text may find this presentation satisfying, but for others simply looking to become caught up in the grandeur and intrigue of one Shakespeare’s most famous plays, this grunge production probably isn’t the one for them.  

        This review also published in Australian Arts Review.