Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Julius Caesar, Bell Shakespeare, July 21, 2018 ***


THEATRE
By William Shakespeare, by Bell Shakespeare Company
At Fairfax Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 28, 2018, then touring 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Wed July 25, 2018 and in print on Thurs July 26, 2018. KH
Kenneth Ransom, pic Prudence Upton
Citizens and politicians love powerful, popular leaders – until they don’t – and so it goes when opposing forces wrestle for power in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, set in Ancient Rome.

When Caesar (Kenneth Ransom) becomes too ambitious, former supporters, incited by conniving Cassius (Nick Simpson-Deeks), convince Caesar’s friend, Brutus (Ivan Donato), to conspire with them to assassinate Caesar on the Ides of March, a date about which a soothsayer warned Caesar.

Shakespeare’s play is an epic political thriller with slaughter, battles, treasonous plots and a political coup.

James Evans’ scaled-down, touring production is a novel interpretation of a power grab, but its severely edited script and grungy style cannot deliver Rome’s grandeur or the devastatingly vicious in-fighting of its formidable antagonists.

Wearing modern, casual clothes, the actors look more like competing street gangs or rebel tribes than noble Romans, and the masked rabble look absurd.

Had this edgy interpretation gone further – tougher street attitude, grittier violence – the production may have been more successful, with greater dramatic tension and danger. Evans’ stylistic choices often jar with Shakespeare’s soaring language.

Donato brings strength and truthfulness to Brutus’s struggle with his decision to murder Caesar, delivering Brutus’s monologues with clarity and conviction, while Ransom’s Caesar is vain, insecure and easily swayed by flattery.

Simpson-Deeks’ Cassius is suitably manipulative while convincing Brutus that their treachery is reasonable.

Mark Antony (Sara Zwangobani) is played here as a woman, and Antony’s renowned speech, ‘Friends, Romans and countrymen,’ is uncomfortably split before and after interval, although Antony’s rhetoric to rile citizens to mutiny against Caesar’s assassins is effective, despite Zwangobani’s mild delivery.

Caesar’s gruesome assassination is stylised but awkwardly choreographed and his bloodied corpse is never seen, while the deaths of Cassius and Brutus are so casual as to be dismissive and lacking tragedy or drama.

This production will not appeal to Shakespeare purists but may engage those unfamiliar with his plays with its stripped back, industrial grunginess.

by Kate Herbert

Director James Evans
Designer Anna Tregloan
Lighting Designer Verity Hampson
Composer & Sound Designer Nate Edmondson
Movement & Fight Director Scott Witt
Voice Coach Jess Chambers
Assistant Director Nasim Khosravi

CAST
Kenneth Ransom
Jemwel Danao
Ivan Donato
Maryanne Fonceca
Ghenoa Gela
Neveen Hanna
Emily Havea
Nick Simpson-Deeks
Russell Smith
Sara Zwangobani


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