This weekend was a lovely one. I had tickets for Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse that I procured for the measly sum of £10 through their very cool Barclays Front Row promotion. Quite frankly, it’s a steal, and I am hoping that I will be able to see all their shows this season through this promotion!
I’m going to be honest – if I hadn’t got the tickets through the £10 promotion, I probably wouldn’t have gone. The premise is intriguing – an all female production of Julius Caesar – but I’m not sure it would have been enough to get me there for full price tickets. (Plus, I have bones to pick with the Donmar when I failed to get tickets for Richard III last year because it was sold out quickly and before I knew about it!)
The thing is, as a theatre consumer, you do have to be picky about what you can see, unless you’re one of those types with loads of money and nothing else you want to buy. Me, well I struggle. There have been regrets in the past about things I’ve missed. (I famously remain gutted that I never saw Ben Barnes in Bird Song!) So choosing theatre is a complicated business.
Julius Caesar, however, was very enjoyable! I had no idea what to expect and when the play opened with loud raucous music and some girl on girl snogging, I immediately sat up and paid attention. After all, one would expect Julius Caesar to be a rather formal and serious affair, and, dare I say it, a bit dull. This production is anything but that. Whether it succeeds as a play is a matter of opinion, but no one can deny it’s full of energy and passion.
This interpretation of Julius Caesar has been inception-ed – it is a play within a play. The inmates of a female prison are staging the play. The theatre has been reworked to resemble a modern day prison and it really gets you in the mood as soon as you sit down. Throughout the play the prison wardens roam overhead as down below (from the circle) the action plays on. It’s atmospheric and the feeling is intimacy.
Lost however in all of this was the strength and power of the characters. Julius Caesar, one of the greatest historical figures, has neither the stature or authority to invoke awe in this production. Frances Barber played him like a caricature and it was wholly disappointing. Likewise, Brutus and Cassius were equally unconvincing characters in this version.
The one performance I really liked was from Cush Jumbo, who really embodied Marc Anthony in her performance. I found the only really moving moment of the play was during her Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears speech. Directorially it could have been better (it started weirdly), but as an actress, I really thought Cush nailed it.
That all said, as an ensemble, I enjoyed the piece. It was neat and well choreographed. It was different and pretty daring. In terms of flow and pacing, it worked. I was never bored and it didn’t feel like it dragged. The minor characters did well in their roles.
The deaths, I must also point out were a little lukewarm. When Julius Caesar was murdered, I had a head on view and all I could see was the horrified look of the 75+ year old lady sat next to the seat where the action took place in the audience. Rather than feel any kind of emotion related to the action, my friend and I were giggling at the lady who was pulling faces and trying to get out of the way of Caesar’s death.
All in all, I am pleased to have seen the play and I am always interested in seeing new theatre, but I’m not sure that it worked overall.
Celeb count: Cush Jumbo (Towrchwood, Lip Service), Frances Barber (pretty much everything), Ishia Bennison (Our Private Life @ Royal Court), Harriet Walter (Christopher Lee’s neice and films).