Friday, 16 October 2009

Julius Ceasar - Blue Elephant Theatre, London

Julius Caesar
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Ricky Dukes
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Very much like Machiavelli's The Prince, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is about courtly deception, power play, betrayal and manipulative maneuvering; an elegant and desperate portrayal of a dangerous and slippery world. But according to Lazarus Theatre Company it seems to be about plotting and petting and very little else. Men stroking men, giggling boys being buggered, long and tender hand shakes, director Ricky Dukes’ evident interest in the ‘sexually uninhibited’ nature of Rome is blatant for all to see, but is it the story that Shakespeare wanted to tell?

Julius Caesar is the bloody tale of Caesar’s assassination and the people that both perpetrated it, primarily the honorable but misguided Marcus Brutus, and those who avenged him, primarily the faithful Mark Anthony (although he was a bit of a deceiver himself by all Egyptian accounts).

The eponymous hero only appears in three scenes in Shakespeare’s text, and in Lazarus Theatre Company’s 90 minute version he never appears at all, remaining only a ghostly and proud visage painted quite beautifully by Heidi Lian onto a gauze screen hanging at the back. This divine face gives the very lovely sense of a society that is constantly overshadowed by Caesar; the missing god like dictator that they are all so desperate to prove is human. As one of the more pertinent stylistic choices it is a rare gem in this otherwise highly superficial production. The cast may move like one in impressively unified synchronization, and sing like angels with one voice as though in a chamber choir, but it’s very difficult to know why and how this all adds to the story at hand. With their epic cast numbers and stage pictures, Lazarus have admirably large aspirations for fringe theatre, but do they have the substance to fill these massive boots?

It would seem not, with this cast flailing in presentational performances which belay the wild eyed melodrama of misguided but intensely meaningful interpretations of text. Sadly they can’t really hide behind this faux earnestness and it’s often hard to follow a scene or a plot point, with the real intention of the text lost as it is in all this noise and fury.

At points Matthew Wade’s solid Brutus, Steven Rodgers’ weasely Cassius and Elana Martin’s delicate Portia break through this fog to reveal some believable moments and it is true that much of the renaissance imagery in this piece is arresting. But this is not enough to save a production where the story has been jettisoned in favour of style. This company clearly has a dynamic eye but once again their director seems to have become enamored in the superfluous at the expense of truthful storytelling. In Dukes’ Julius Caesar homoeroticism plays a central, if not the central, part to the complete detriment of any other facet of this multi-layered psychological drama and quite frankly, I’d rather see Shakespeare’s vastly superior original please.

Runs until 7th Nov
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