The Bridge Theatre
Reviewed – 30th January 2018
“This production is exciting beyond compare; chilling and entertaining in equal measure”
Never has Shakespeare been told with such clarity and disquieting immediacy. An onslaught from start to finish, it begins at a pop-up, raucous rock gig – a scratch band rallying the mob in the pit. This is the first of many pointers as to why the text is still so relevant today. The crowd are cajoled into cheering for Caesar, without knowing why or what he stands for. It is the story of mass emotions and how easily this can rise to civil war. We are shown, in Nicholas Hytner’s spell-binding production, some disastrous home truths about the nature of men and politics: “Julius Caesar” is a timeless mirror in which the present age can see itself.
Hytner’s decision to play it two hours straight through is inspired and adds to the immediacy. Configured in the round, Bunny Christie’s ingenious set rises up from the ground in differing configurations, forcing the crowd to sway with the tide and be bustled into all corners of the space. You can, of course, choose to sit if you wish, but the experience is amplified, both literally and figuratively, by being among the populace on the ground. When Caesar is assassinated we are forced to crouch to the ground by the gun-wielding conspirators. David Calder’s charisma as Caesar prevents us from saluting this slaughter, though his spot-on portrayal of a man too confident of his own power adds diffidence to our reaction.
Ben Whishaw is a revelation as a twitchy, studious Brutus, unsure of himself yet in command. At close range his facial tics and darting eyes convey his uncertainty in his own reasoning. Everything boils down to terminology, and we almost go along with him when he states that “we shall be called purgers, not murderers”, a hauntingly dangerous and resonant frame of mind to be duped into in today’s world.
Opposite Whishaw, Michelle Fairley’s portrayal of Cassius is impassioned and calculating, but does she ever truly get Brutus on her side? The sheer chemistry between the two comes into the open, particularly in the later scenes as they furiously quarrel then make up.
While the conspirators falter, Mark Anthony sets the seal on their destruction. David Morrissey captures, with diabolical precision, his ability to play the emotions of the crowd. His depiction, along with the entire cast, grips the audience and unflinchingly reminds us that political unrest is a beast that cannot, and must not, be ignored. This production is exciting beyond compare; chilling and entertaining in equal measure. And with the aid of Paul Arditti’s sound design and Bruno Poet’s lighting, it resembles at times a filmic, stylish thriller.
It is an absolute must see. Unfloundering to the end, the last line belongs to Octavius, and recent RADA graduate Kit Young’s (a talent to watch out for) manic smile of jubilation is a sore reminder that history is still on its inevitable and tragic cycle of repeating itself. “How many ages hence, Shall this our lofty scene be acted over, In states unborn and accents yet unknown!”
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Manuel Harlan
The Bridge Theatre until 15th April