BWW Review: JULIUS CAESAR, Bristol Old Vic
In this new production, Bristol Old Vic and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School demonstrate that inventive design and captivating young talent is a recipe for a bold, visceral retelling of Shakespeare's political tragedy Julius Caesar.
When celebrated general Caesar returns to Rome, seeds of conspiracy are sown when pro-democracy senators seek to bring about his demise, including the once faithful Brutus. Wrestling with the demands of honour, patriotism and friendship, Brutus navigates a political landscape that has the power to change on the turn of a single phrase or decision.
The production design is wonderfully inventive in a number of ways. Sarah Mercadé's minimalist set features a wall of moveable panels and steps on which are scrawled graffiti, opened up to reveal a stormy sky, and throughout are sparsely complemented with props smartly supporting the action, rather than cluttering the stage with unnecessary objects.
Paul Pyant's clever and varied lighting design escalates the intensity of scenes at times with little more than a change of colour, and when coupled with Jessica Edkins' bold and intense sound design (baying mobs, sirens and gunshots are the order of the day) can be a real assault on the senses.
It's a very "noisy" production in light of Edkins' choices and there are times when you lose the clarity of speech, but overall her design feels very brave and places the action in a contemporary light that is eerily relevant to today. Contemporary nods also feature in Eleanor Bull's costumes, and energetic direction from Simon Dormandy easily manages to marry together emotional weight and dramatic irony with these contemporary allusions.
Bringing together youth and experience, there are strong performances across the board. Julian Glover is a velvet-voiced Julius Caesar, who seems from the outset to have the measure of those around him, yet his pride makes him dismissive. We feel his quiet intensity and presence even after he disappears from proceedings, his body language expressive when he reappears to Brutus after being assassinated.
Other standout performances came from Freddie Bowerman as Brutus, showing an incredible intensity and gift for evoking a whole range of conflicting emotions. Edward Stone is a perfectly suave Cassius, Ross O' Donnellan a captivating Mark Anthony, and Eleanor House a feisty Casca. The commitment and energy the cast shows is remarkable, and it's always a joy to watch emerging talent shine as brightly as they do here.
As the recent controversy surrounding Public Theater's Trump-referencing production of the play for Shakespeare in the Park shows, the current political climate means the play's resonance is stark and far-reaching, over 400 years on. Bristol's production is no exception, and doesn't shy away from the challenge of presenting the unsettling tension between democratic society and undemocratic means.
Photo Credit: Simon Purse