BWW Review: JULIUS CAESAR, Bridge Theatre
Julius Caesar has arrived at the Bridge - not one of the many bridges of Rome, but the newly opened Bridge Theatre, nestled beside London's City Hall and Tower Bridge. It's the second production at the theatre, and provides a clear demonstration of the flexibility of this newest space on London's theatre scene.
Let's start with the staging. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bunny Christie have conceived this Caesar to feature a large section of the audience in promenade in the 'pit', to act as the "friends, Romans and countrymen" of Mark Antony's famous speech.
Deftly shepherded by inconspicuous crew as small stages rise and fall from the pit floor, they become an integral part of the show - first at a mini rock concert rally, then as crowds who bear witness to the machinations, murder and mêlées that ensue.
Being in amongst the action is an excellent way to feel part of this very kinetic production - even more so than being a groundling at the Globe, I'd argue. But at two hours with no interval, I preferred to look down from a more comfortable (and since I'm 5'2", more sightline-friendly) seated spot. Choose your own experience!
Hytner's production is modern dress, and the parallels with certain current world leaders (I use the term advisedly) are more than hinted at - see, for example, Caesar's minions selling T-shirts and pin badges before the show, and the man himself sporting a red baseball cap bearing his own name.
This, coupled with the crowd-based staging, loud soundtrack and noteworthy mix of gender and race throughout the cast, make this Julius Caesar feel up-to-date and accessible for a broad audience.
(On a slight sidenote, bravo also to the Bridge Theatre itself for indicating on their toilet doors that transgender individuals are free to use either the men's or ladies' loos - an example for many other theatres.)
The cast are universally strong. David Calder's Caesar is charismatic, populist and slightly jaded, only gradually revealing his despotic side. David Morrissey is a rock-solid yet devious Mark Antony, disarming the watching crowds with appropriate oratorical finesse.
Michelle Fairley is an intense but measured Cassius, displaying the steely determination to carry out the conspirators' assassination plot. Meanwhile, Ben Whishaw cuts an anxious, twitchy figure as a studious but slightly naïve Brutus, who has apparently surrounded himself with books and papers on dictators in preparation for the deadly deed. Adjoa Andoh is a fantastically sassy and sarcastic Casca, skilled in both withering comments and looks.
This Caesar may not be one for Shakespeare purists, but there's plenty there both for those faithful to the text and those seeking more of a modern thrill. It's exciting, at times frenetic, and a great demonstration of the potential of The Bridge to bring crowd-pleasing, quality theatre to the masses.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan