Reviewed – 11th March 2020
“an ambitious and slick production”
Produced by Conor Gray and directed by Kate Bauer, a modern rendition of Shakespeare’s historical tragedy Julius Caesar is the latest production from theatre company The UnDisposables. Set in Rome in 44 BC, Julius Caesar follows the moral dilemma of the Roman senator Brutus (Sarah Dean) over joining the conspiracy led by Cassius (Rachel Wilkes) to murder the state’s popular leader Julius Caesar (Isobel Hughes). With the support of Casca (Georgia Andrews), Cinna (Jake Saunders), Metellus Cimber (Esther Joy MacKay) and Decimus Brutus (Rory Gradon), Cassius and Brutus succeed in their goal before they are plunged into civil war against Caesar’s right hand man Mark Antony (Room Sikdar-Rahman) and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius (Grace Hussy-Burd).
The UnDisposables’ production aims to draw parallels between Rome’s civil unrest and the environmental movement Extinction Rebellion’s protest activities across the globe. The conspirators here are not just trying to protect the abstract values of liberty and freedom, but the planet itself. Before the play begins, the cast parade noisily around the stage holding signs about Caesar, and, reminiscent of the group’s protest in Leicester Square last December, all don fluorescent yellow hi vis jackets marked with an ‘R’ for Rome.
This is an intriguing comparison to make, but this theme is unfortunately not really explored beyond such superficial references. There is no real suggestion that the characters are concerned about a climate crisis. More props and alternative costumes – gas or face masks, dirtied clothes, near-empty water contains strewn across the stage – would certainly help to create a sense of imminent apocalypse. Rome’s descent into civil war could too be used more explicitly to reflect on the increasingly polarising nature of politics in contemporary society.
Hussy-Burd and Isobel Hughes are the standout performers. Hussy-Burd’s various roles are not major players, but she moves between them with great ease, shining best as Trebonius. Hughes has incredible gravitas as Caesar and commands the stage whenever she is present. It is a great shame that she is not a character in the second half of the performance. Wilkes, Dean and Andrews deliver their huge quantity of lines confidently with few mistakes or hesitations. There is also some fantastic choreography that all the cast execute well such as a perfectly in sync fighting sequence that serves to break up the narrative performance and provide some respite from the long speeches.
The audience are seated surrounding the stage, and space between and behind their chairs allow the cast to weave amongst them. The stage itself is largely bare, except for a few chairs that intermittently populate the space. A balcony overlooks the main stage space which is used in the latter half of the performance for more dramatic scenes. This space could certainly be used earlier, especially in helping to establish Caesar’s power and hold over the populace. Protest signs – many with humorous slogans reminiscent of those which have gone viral on social media – decorate the theatre walls.
Ominous music and sound effects (Tom Triggs) play throughout the first half of the play as the action creeps towards Caesar’s assassination. A particularly effective moment is the loud, echoey voice that delivers Calphurnia’s premonition of Caesar’s death. The lighting (James Ireland) does not vary too much other than to denote day and night, and there are few props apart from some potato peelers as rather distracting substitutes for knives and the colourful signage.
The UnDisposables’ Julius Caesar is an ambitious and slick production and succeeds best in its acting and sound design, but more focus on drawing out their contemporary environmental themes will elevate this production to a new level.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Phil Brooks
The Space until 21st March
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