Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0501. Friday, 5 July 1996.
Date: Thursday, 4 Jul 1996 09:48:17 +1000
Subject: Production of "Julius Caesar"
I thought SHAKSPER members might be interested in a report on a new production
of Julius Caesar currently running in Melbourne (Australia). The production
takes a strongly contemporary line in setting and action, giving Roman politics
the bustle and hype of contemporary corporate and media government. Senators
(both men and women) are cabinet members, conduct press interviews, summon
servants on intercoms and shred documents when things come unglued, as they do.
Both Bruts' and Antony's Rostrum speechs are conducted as multiemdia press
conferences to a corps of TV and print reporters, and Caesar himself lives in a
constant welter of flashbulbs, that is when not relaxing in his Gucci
black-leather armchairs, or twisting arms at Cabinet meetings round the long
Strong traces of the film noir political thriller hang about the production, to
good effect. The predominant design scheme is monochrome corporate authority,
with lots of glossy gadgets (Caesar's ghost appears on big-screen TV), and the
whole is accompanied by a disturbing underlay of pedal tones and chordal
outbreaks that gives it something of the feel of a film ("Edge of Darkness"
perhaps). The "portent" scene is especially atmospheric here, with Cicero
appearing dimly behind a chain-link screen and under a black umbrella to quiz
Casca and others, like an evil twin of John Guilgud.
Overall, this works extremely well, and the audience responds at once and with
enthusiasm. The scenes of conspiracy are especially powerful and some excellent
acting in the lesser conspirator parts (especially Casca) brings the gallery of
political characters vividly to life: the reluctant one, the pushy one, the
"debutante", the bagman, the numbers man: one recognizes them all. Here
Shakespeare's dialogue fuses very effectively with a familiar kind of modern
story. These were the best scenes in the piece.
Other aspects, while no less powerful, were less wholly convincing. Casting a
woman as Antony was a bold and welcome move, but the particular Antony managed
not to find all the resonance she needed (in part this is because the actor
must come on effectively cold after the murder and at once move to the centre,
without any "warm up"). Staging the Rostrum scene before microphones limits
what Antony can do without a really outstanding vocal ability, which this
actor, though I admire her very much, does not have.
The battle scenes were always going to be a problem in this corporatized
environment, and they proved the weakest parts -- much running about and not so
much shape. When things stilled, the play was again very powerful, as in the
quarrel scene between Brutus and Cassius, where the edge of desperation in
both, barely under restraint, cut very raw. Suddenly we were in very nasty
territory out of, say, a more eloquent David Mamet. But some bits became rather
silly: the confrontation of leaders before Phillipi was staged as a "Meet the
Press" conference, complete with earnest moderator; and when Cassius died, his
military staff immediately set about shredding his documents.
The play has had an enormous success here, regularly filling a theatre which
the Melbourne Theatre Company has recently had difficulty keeping up, mostly
through bad program choices. With the imminent release of Richard III in
cinemas, and Othello currently doing quite well there, plus an excellent
"Italian circus" production of "Much Ado" by John Bell's company in May, we
could be said to be having a sort of small revival at present.
Tom Bishop (your roving reporter)