I went to see Bell Shakespeare’s version of Julius Caesar last night as part of my 2010 Christmas present from my mother (Much Ado About Nothing was the first half, in which I laughed harder than I ever have before in a theatre). Often Bell makes a point of shifting a play into an obviously different era – Much Ado had a 1950s Italian-American vibe going on. But Julius just had the players in suits, and other than that was quite timeless.
It was a marvellous production and I am sure there are any number of brilliant reviews already out there. There a couple of things I wanted to note. One is that Cassius was played as a woman, which worked surprisingly well in that very few of the lines actually took on any other significance – unlike when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are women, which I’ve seen, and gives their interaction with Hamlet maaaany more layers indeed. The woman who took the role was very good, although she did make her quite sharp and shrewd – interesting to consider whether I would have got this impression about a man (I haven’t seen this performed in years). Should also mention that Brutus was exceptionally good – and older than I have seen him played before, as was Caesar himself, which I really appreciated. Also Portia, Brutus’ wife, was agonisingly wonderful.
Mark Antony was appropriately young, and had a very clever transition in terms of costume: the first time he is on stage, his trousers are rolled up and he was shirtless. A bit later he was in a hoody… a while later he was in ‘office-casual’, shirt with cotton sweater; then by the end in quite a sharp suit, with his hair tied back (it had been out for the rest of the play; it wasn’t until this bit that it was obvious he had an UNDERCUT. Hello 1995!) So that was cleverly done.
The actress who played Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, also played Octavian. Make of that what you will.
The thing that left me breathless with appreciation happened right at the end. The stage was enclosed on three side with office chairs, and the only prop on stage was a single pillar, a la the Forum, with some scaffolding around it. More of the scaffolding gets built throughout the play, by the actors themselves, in some beautifully choreographed movements. Right at the end the scaffold is built up quite high and rods attached to the top… and the final action, basically, is to hide the single pillar with drapes showing three pillars instead. O, the symbolism! I swoon in delight.