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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Julius Caesar (Bard in the Botanics)

A Bloodless Fight for Power

For a production whose designs revolve around modern politics (think pencil skirts, charismatic smiles, and flags hanging limply outside doorways), one might be forgiven for expecting an allegory for British politics. But at its heart, Julius Caesar is not a story about betrayal, it is about political rhetoric, and doesn’t easily translate to any one political scandal without highlighting the fallibility of the entire system. But director Jennifer Dick knows that, and rather than imposing a specific modern vision onto the production she allows the play to breathe, and for the conflict and ambition of all the characters to shine through.

Photo Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

And the cast gets the best out of those characters every chance they get. Stephanie McGregor plays Antonia, who gives a speech to the people of Rome that turns them against Caesar’s attackers and in doing so immediately wins the affections of the audience. The fury with which the rips down a crimson curtain and the care with which she places it over Caesar’s lifeless body epitomises her performance. Caesar himself, played by James Boal, gets little time to shine but possesses the charming exterior and barely concealed ego of any number of politicians. Cassia, his chief conspirator, is played by Claire Macallister. Casting a woman, and particularly Macallister, brings new energy to the character. From her first line she shows herself as a woman who is used to being disagreed with and has built up a hard-nosed attitude in the pursuit of her goals.

But while the whole cast gives strong performances, the performance as a whole does not take enough risks to feel special and significant. There are a few moments that stand out, such as the stabbing scene. When the crowd of suited traitors stab Caesar (brilliantly choreographed by EmmaClaire Brightlyn), they have the reluctant physicality of a bunch of people who have never had to exert themselves to acquire power, and who feel immediately smaller for having done it. It’s a striking moment of juxtaposition between subtle political power and animalistic aggression. But part of the reason it stands out is because there isn’t that much physicality and dynamic direction in the other scenes. The first forty minutes trudge by while we wait for the conflict to begin, missing out on the paranoid potential of that part of the play. Equally the second half, despite having a high pile of bodies, speeds by without giving the audience time to appreciate the loss of each character, despite the cast’s best efforts.

Photo Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Although the performance does have some moments that spark, Bard in the Botanic’s Julius Caesar never feels weighty. Dick’s choice to let a classic speak for itself is refreshing in a time when most adaptations have some unexpected spin, but she fails to give her production an identity. It acts as a case-in-point that while a safer production may best display the original text, it will leave the audience wishing you had taken a stab at something more daring. Three stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: "It was great! Good modern setting. The woman who played Portia [Éimi Quinn] was really good."

Julius Caesar will play at Bard in the Botanics until the 8th of July


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