Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre: Review
After the muted success of Young Marx, I was hopeful that the new and beautiful Bridge Theatre's second offering would trump its first. Trump, indeed, as this is a political play which considers the threat of dictatorship. Inside the auditorium, David Calder's presidential face is printed on badges, campaign boards and flyers - "Do this!" we're ordered by Caesar himself.
Seizing the vast promenade space from the start, a rock band entertains the 'mob' and wheeled stalls sell beers and t-shirts, as if at a festival. The drum-heavy renditions of Katy Perry and Oasis tracks may encourage some to plug their fingers in their ears, but it does well to engage the standing audience members who quickly become part of the action.
This is a modern day Shakespeare which centres on the streets. Secret meetings at bus stops, public appearances of rulers protected by security guards, and barbed wire barricades - all surrounded by us, ruffians on street corners. Navigating the throng is a vibrant cast: Adjoa Andoh plays a lively, gossiping Casca and David Morrissey a slippery Marc Anthony. Calder's Caesar is entitled, yet not overtly tyrannical.
Brutus is portrayed by Ben Whishaw as an intelligent and well-intentioned man with flawed ideas. He is swayed by the reasoning of an urgent Cassius (Michelle Fairley), but he proceeds to misjudge the outcome of a vital decision. Controlled and eager, he does not expect his logic to fail and one autocrat to be replaced by another.
At times, the production shines. Whishaw's pitch-perfect delivery of Shakespeare's prose is delightful to hear, and it is hard not to be impressed with the active nature of the staging: stage blocks rise and fall, characters enter from the crowd and set materialises from the darkness. Yet, the pivotal murder sequence does not quite bring the drama it deserves. It seems too formulaic and the giggles floating from the pit render the scene anti-climactic. Nevertheless, Hytner does away with an interval and condenses the play into a swift two hours, ensuring your attention is always focussed on the next piece of action.
In the end, this play reminded me that history tends to repeat itself. Shakespeare wrote works based on the anxieties of his time, and it is a testament to history that Julius Caesar resonates in 2018, as it did in the seventeenth century.
Julius Caesar is running at The Bridge Theatre until 15 April 2018.