“their rendition makes it apparent that you can no more rush the immortal words of Shakespeare than the overthrowing of a tyrannical despot”
Theatre company Mad Wolf aim to make Shakespeare ‘exciting, thrilling… and for everyone’ in their new one-act rendition of the playwright’s historical tragedy Julius Caesar.
Set in Rome in 44 BC, Julius Caesar, produced and directed by Gavin Richards, depicts the moral dilemma of the Roman senator Brutus (Matt Penson) over joining the conspiracy led by Cassius (Alex Bird) to murder Julius Caesar (Aimee Kember) to prevent him becoming dictator of Rome. Supported by Casca (Aimee Pollock) and Cinna (Jasmin Keshavarzi), Cassius and Brutus succeed in their goal before being thrust into civil war against one of Caesar’s greatest supporters Mark Antony (Niall Burns) and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius (Keshavarzi).
The six actors move confidently between 19 different roles using basic costume changes – a new jacket, a dressing gown etc. – to mark out their new character. Bird is standout in his role as Cassius, adopting an uncomfortably wide stare and hunch that perfectly fit the senator’s shady persona. Kember is thoroughly commanding as Caesar but handles Portia’s sensitive moments with her husband Brutus delicately as well. Frustratingly, some nuances in speech and character are lost by the cast’s over tendency to scream their lines at any moment of heightened emotion.
Mad Wolf’s intentions with their condensed production are noble but there is unfortunately more loss than gain. The performance moves at an incredibly fast pace mainly because the waffling speeches and winding metaphors inherent to Shakespeare’s work have been cut from the script. There is little to no time to pause and reflect on the events that have unfolded, and hugely important moments like Caesar’s death go by in a flash. The omission of such drawn out dialogue certainly makes the play more digestible especially to someone who may not otherwise engage with Shakespeare, but it also makes everything far more confusing due to the lack of exposition. Mad Wolf would have perhaps done better to edit or rewrite the script for clarity rather than simply take out huge chunks of text that are integral to the play’s narrative and rhythm.
The back wall of the theatre is covered in Lord Kitchener-style ‘Caesar Wants You’ posters, many of which are illustrated with graffiti declaring ‘Caesar is King!’ Empty sleeping bags, cardboard rubbish and coats litter the edges of the stage which the cast alternate between using as props and, rather oddly, as something to hide under or appear from when exiting or entering a scene respectively. This direction does make the theatre’s simple space more dynamic by not restricting the cast to the one aisle exit but this oftentimes comes across as comical which is rather jarring considering the overall mood of the play.
The debris also presumably represents the hard times which Caesar was able to capitalise on to gain power, but this is never explicitly explained. The senators’ formal attire resembles that of modern-day politicians which suggests that the audience is to interpret some sort of parallel between this tale and contemporary society, though this is not explored either.
The lighting (Lewis Plumb) is good. Notable moments include flashing overhead lights timed with a thunder sound effect to resemble lightning and the slow fade to black except for a spotlight on one of the Caesar posters at the end of the performance.
Mad Wolf’s production of Julius Caesar sets out on a worthy mission to make the Bard of Avon more accessible. Unfortunately, their rendition makes it apparent that you can no more rush the immortal words of Shakespeare than the overthrowing of a tyrannical despot.
“a great example of a play that does not appeal to our human desire for resolution, but instead rightly demonstrates that the fight for true equality and justice is far from over”
Directed by Lily McLeish, Scrounger is an autobiographical play that recounts a traumatic incident experienced by Athena Stevens at London City Airport in 2015. Born with athetoid cerebral palsy, Stevens was removed from a British Airways flight when staff could not get her £30,000 electric wheelchair into the hold. When Stevens’ chair was returned to her, it was severely damaged, leaving her without autonomous mobility and trapped in her flat for months before she received settlement.
Through Twitter hashtags, an appeal to EU law, and a petition organised by campaign group 38 Degrees, Stevens boldly embarks on trying to a change a system that is inherently stacked against her.
Stevens however does not only point blame at our Conservative government, but also the show’s presumed audience, specifically, “the left leaning, Guardian reading, Daily Mail hating, Oxfam giving, colour blind seeing, red voting, paper straw using, conflict avoiding, zen loving, feminist supporting, always for the few…liberal minded you.” The villains of this story are not just the incompetent staff she had encountered, but Stevens’ yoga-loving boyfriend and obtusely middle-class friend Emma as well, all of whom are played excellently by Leigh Quinn.
A central theme of the play is conflict and the inherent privilege of being able to avoid it. Stevens notes that amongst her friends she is known as always being ‘up for a fight’ but explains that her very existence as a disabled individual necessitates this. The faith that Stevens’ boyfriend has in the legal system to deliver justice highlights this well and succeeds in making the audience consider how they too may just be another cog in the flawed machine.
The production is split into some-twenty chapters titled with an exciting summation of the contents of the coming scenes though what follows sometimes only lasts a couple of minutes. Simultaneously, when the chapters reach double figures, there is little plot to show for it. There would certainly be great benefit to the performance’s pace in amalgamating a few chapters.
There is also little to no sense of how much real time has passed until Quinn suddenly announces halfway through the show that it has been 35 days since the incident. Based on the events that have unfolded by this point, the audience would be safe to assume it had been less than a week. Signposting the days more clearly, and perhaps even replacing the chapter titles with the day count, would certainly help to reduce moments where the play feels stagnant.
A wonky white house set (Anna Reid) surrounds the stage with two respective doors and neon-framed windows for entrance, exit and pop-ups. When she’s not playing a plethora of different characters, Quinn sits at a desk to the front right of the stage from which she accesses several props, a soundboard and a microphone. The sound (Julian Starr) and lighting (Anthony Doran) does well to match the mood on stage, though some of the production’s most powerful moments occur when everything is stripped back and Stevens addresses the audience without the glitz and glamour of the theatre.
Scrounger offers an important narrative about oppression and non-linear progression. Crucially, Stevens’ story does not end in rainbows and sunshine with everything tied up in a little bow. There is no great monetary victory; no law created to protect those vulnerable to similar mistreatment; and no real consequences for the companies involved. Scrounger is a great example of a play that does not appeal to our human desire for resolution, but instead rightly demonstrates that the fight for true equality and justice is far from over.