Theatre Review: Julius Caesar @ The Bridge Theatre
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The young and fresh Bridge Theatre sprung up right on the South bank of Tower Bridge last year, and their second ever production Julius Caesar is without a doubt the most exciting thing on stage right now.
This production couldn’t be more different from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rome Season versions of Shakespeare’s Roman plays. Where they have taken a traditional approach, The Bridge has used brilliantly innovative staging to create an immersive experience like no other. Bunny Christie's production design deserves the highest praise!
Audience members standing in the pit embody the mob of Roman citizens that play as integral of a role in the play as Caesar himself, or any of the insurgents. Encouraged to crowd around the rising parts of the stage, and ushered this way and that to follow the action, this production is a masterclass in engaging with the audience in a truly unique way.
Veteran actor David Calder embodies the smug entitlement of Caesar with as much subtlety as the red, mock-Trump CAESAR caps being sold in the theatre: that is to say, not very much, and precisely the perfect amount. His styling is ‘U.S. senator on the campaign trail’ inspired, and his relationships with the (ironically) adoring crowd, with his wife, with his cleverly inserted mistress, show off a three-dimensional character rather than simply a caricature.
Fresh off a different Roman role in Sky’s Britannia, David Morrissey embodies a somehow funny Mark Antony, clad in a navy tracksuit with his name emblazoned in red on the back for the first half of the show. The snidely mocked, energetic yes-man executes his own manipulations remarkably believably, taking up the mantle of soldier without affair.
The two conspirators, Brutus and Cassius, are played flawlessly by the endlessly talented Ben Whishaw and Michelle Fairley (yeah, Cat Stark). We see Cassius’ steely determination and cold rage devolve into a biting helplessness as the play progresses, while Brutus’ introspective intellect carries the audience through the moral questionability all the other characters display so openly.
Of the other conspirators, Adjoa Andoh’s blunt Casca is the standout - her sharpness of tongue and ease with a handgun giving her an magnetic air of danger. It’s no accident that Cassius and Casca - the instigators - are both cast as women in this production, and that the group of insurgents is as ethnically and gender diverse as it is. Caesar and Antony, and Brutus who needs to justify the act to himself, for his own reasons, rather than jumping on board the revolution instinctively, are all white men, and the effect is powerful.
I won’t ruin the staging of the assassination itself, because it deserves to be experienced with as much shock and confusion as it inspired in the pit when I saw it. I cannot emphasise enough just how effective it is to make the audience not simply witnesses but agents, participants in the events occurring.
The turning point of the play happens at Caesar’s funeral, where Brutus makes his speech to justify the killing, and Antony famously delivers “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” to persuade the mob of the opposite. The power in the moment lies directly in our hands, and it’s absolutely electrifying to be swept up in the riot which ensues.
The pit is transformed from political arena to active war-zone, as our sharply-suited characters transform before our eyes to efficient soldiers and weary, hounded enemies of the state.
The intensity of the relationship between Cassius and Brutus is fascinating in the hands of Fairley and Whishaw, who create such a believable network of support and antagonism between the two characters that you might believe them to be actual siblings rather than simply brothers in their cause.
The audience is roused to a state of high adrenaline and hive-mind behaviour by a rock concert opening at a Caesar rally, and from that point our minds really are in the hands of the performers. Chanting and cheering when incited to, and being swayed this way and that by the magnetic political presences, the play effectively demonstrates, and not unintentionally, exactly how it is that Trump came into power, and how the Brexit vote result happened.
It really is that relevant, and that powerful, and that essential. Buy tickets for the pit! You’ll never be satisfied by seated theatre again!
Tickets and more information can be found here.