Bell Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at The Western Australian State Theatre Centre a Rambling Review by Alicia Smith.
Last night Rob and I saw the opening night of Julius Caesar in Perth. There are 4 more performances in Perth before the play continues its tour around the State and continues around Australia.
I've never seen Julius before, but quite a few of Shakespeare's plays have an affectionate familiarity for me, I'm familiar with the language and metre and I'm fond of the sometimes hypnotic flow of verse.
We were warned at the pre-show function that purists might be annoyed by what the company have done to Acts 4 & 5 - I can't really honestly say: not having seen the original as it was written.
Incidentally, the program is very good, A5, full colour, glossy, with excellent production concept sketches and design and production notes, and is only $8.00.
I would like to applaud the masterful splicing in of the original Plutarch. That scene was very moving. What news? And the news was given with the graveness and sense that a news anchor or historian usually relating grave current affairs with neutrality, is their selves affected by these epic events.
Not to mention casting a woman as Cassius (!) with minimal script changes to reflect this. This made some of the students in the audience titter, but they soon were so embedded in the drama that continued usage just became part of the world that we all found ourselves in.
This was a well written story, with a powerful, tense and highly crafted performance from all the actors.
The set was interesting, a dozen or so intimidating black and chrome chairs flanking the stage, with big stage lights flanking these, and being used to very mood changing effect throughout the work, a pointed reminder of Cassius's How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown! Yeah, posterity is watching across the ages.
What also lent an air of timelessness, ancient and modern, was the one great focal point of the set, a great column, all by itself. Scarred by time and perhaps past war it looms over the players. Initially a short surround of bright, new, scaffolding cages it and the rocks and plant life at its base. Weeds undermining a mighty structure, I wonder or just a sign that the old order needs some pepping up. You can interpret it how you like. Is the column Caesar or Rome? Or both? Or is it just a column? Sometimes a column is just a column, but it's unlikely in this case.
This reflects modern Rome, which is apparently getting itself spruced up what they do is have screens of what the completed building will look like supported by the workmens' scaffolding during building and restoration works. During the play, with masterful and sometimes breathtaking synchrony, the actors add to this structure, building it higher and higher throughout the production.
This column is closest to a Corinthian, but instead of the usual botanical fruit salad at the capital we see beasts primarily owls which is rather dichotomous in Roman myth. Whilst being the companion of Minerva, goddess of wisdom it is also known to be the herald of the death of great ones. This zoomorphic selection underscores Plutarch's (which Shakespeare based his play on) description of the strange events before the assasination. Lions and owls, birds and horses stories of fantastic creatures abound throughout. The Romans were very into auguries and auspices and the reading of the behaviours of animals, their entrails and the flight of birds all figured into this. Designer Anna Cordingley has really set the stage for us. Interestingly the final rendition of the column becomes a lot less adorned with a simple Doric capital, if I recall. No animals, no plants. Does this mean the new Rome looks to be less superstitious and more reasoned?
And the acting? Superb. What a show! I tell you what was impressive. This show has already visited 9 other sites around Australia and the energy and enthusiasm coming from the actors is as fresh as if they've just started. It has not palled at all for them, they are giving it their all and in no way are blasι' about what's going on.
From Alex Menglet's choleric and godfather like Julius Caesar perhaps with a hints of just-about-to-be-assasinated-popular-but-not-with-his-peers American president to Colin Moody's extraordinarily noble but deeply conflicted Brutus.
Daniel Frederiksen's Mark Antony presented my favourite piece in this his skilful manipulation of the crowd drawing knowing, cynical chuckles from the audience (we were cast as the mob from the beginning, really, projected broadcasts from the actor on the stage being sent from various places in the audience!) as he repeated, time and again that the conspirators were Noble Men, and then presenting reasonable discourse on how they were, perhaps, not so Noble after all. A moving portrayal of a grieving, vengeful man with conflicts of his own, as he seemed to genuinely respect Brutus.
Kate Mulvany played Cassius and she absolutely shone. If there was a Tony award for Best Control of Facial Expression Allowing The Audience To Know Exactly What My Character's Thinking she'd have it down pat. Pert, energetic,intelligent, wonderfully manipulative and endlessly scheming though with a genuine concern for the welfare of Rome. Rob disagrees, but if he wants to defend himself, he's going to have to write his own review. Mulvany's great and her depiction of Cassius has made the role my favourite main one in the production.
My favourite minor role was Portia, played by Katie-Jean Harding. She was perhaps the most touching role at times heartrendingly viscerally miserable, and then so tender and gentle. She was perhaps the character I felt most for. She also took on the historian role when Plutarch relates the result of the battle (from his Parallel Lives) of the conspirators against Octavius's forces in the final act which is an extraordinary performance by itself, as mentioned earlier.
Look out also for Rebecca Bower in her various roles of the hard done by Calphurnia, the genuinely and quite justifiably confused Lucius (run to the forum and back? Why, mistress?) and Octavius especially look for her performance in the final 'peaceful' meeting between the warring characters it's Bower's favourite, she confided to me when I spoke to her after the show, and her enthusiasm in this on top of an already finely energised and precise performance is a delight.
Benedict Hardie (Trebonius), James Wardlaw (Decius Cinna)and Garath Reeves (Caska) all portrayed their characters intensely and with numerous small conspiratorial moments that turn these characters, who might be in danger of turning into faceless non-entities, into genuine people with their own agendas and motivations, but without detracting or distracting from the leads. Difficult to do well, and here it's being done beautifully.
Keith Agius (Cicero, Soothsayer and Lepidus) carried off his parts seamlessly and with flair particularly the Soothsayer whose intensity was compelling.
Music and sound were seamlessly interwoven into the production thanks to Composer Kelly Ryall.
Another thing that struck me apart from use of sound tuning forks, microphones carried throughout the audience, the roar of a crowd, thunder, scrabblings and volcanoes was the use of an almost ritualised movement Nigel Poulton the movement specialist's work is very clear here.
If you go to the embedded video here at Bell Shakespeare's site http://www.bellshakespeare.com.au/whatson/2011/juliuscaesar watch the video by all means, but if you're in a hurry fast forward to around 1:59 and watch what is going on. It's very powerful ..a slowing of time, ritualistic movement, perhaps, history holding its breath at a nexus of events, and is repeated throughout the production to powerful effect. Note also if you happen to be lucky enough to see this work, the pause as characters go toward the wings, and then check themselves, and then leave properly. It's quite arresting and becomes a sort of hypnotic punctuation throughout the play.
This was our first experience of the Heath Ledger Theatre the W.A State Theatre Centre. It's a most impressive space. When we asked the Assistant Director, Imara Savage and the actors that we met afterwards what they thought of the new space they were unanimous in their praise of the venue even of the backstage areas, which more often than not, I'm told, are as perilous in new buildings as in old. All are agreed that the acoustics are exceptional, and it shows. The internal wooden structure recalls the Globe from the outside, and the architectural scale recalls the Coliseum! The glass and lights are just fantastic, it's a beautifully conceived blend of classic and futurist design.
Bell Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is running at The Heath Ledger Theatre on the 18th, the 19th and with two performances on the 20th. It will then travel to Albany, Mandurah, Geraldton, Bendigo, Melbourne, Alice Springs, Darwin, Cairns, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Caloundra, Gold Coast, Lismore, Bathurst, finishing up its final performances at the Sydney Opera House.
It's directed by Peter Evans.
It shows that the entire cast have had creative input, vast amounts of enthusiasm and well trained skills, and have researched this work thoroughly. I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to this play. Thank you to the cast, the crew and the sponsors of this wonderful production it's rare to see such sustained unmitigated excellence.
10 out of 10 excellent and finding Pliny signing first edition copies of his Natural Histories at the Zoo on the Sid and Nancy Scale.