Donmar Warehouse, London
Phyllida Lloyd doesn’t pull her punches with this barnstorming all female production of one of Shakespeare’s most political plays.
Setting it in a prison, interestingly, with its stripped back walls designer Bunny Christie makes the Donmar reminiscient of what it looked like when, as the Donmar Warehouse, the RSC and Peter Brook staged experimental seasons there.
Lloyd’s concept is a brilliantly striking visual coup, at once immersive and symbolic of a hermetic, over-heated power capsule where events are played out against ever watchful cameras and prison officers who intrude, snatching away performers so that, by chance, another prisoner has to stand in for Cinna the Poet making startlingly graphic the point about being caught up in mob violence. Wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Harsh reality!
Lloyd makes sure we feel it viscerally in Christie’s setting with its glaring strip lighting, grey plastic seats and intermittent crashing music from on-stage musicians who suddenly emerge from the cast.
As to the play’s actual dynamics, Lloyd has slightly less success though Frances Barber’s Caesar, in black leather coat and beret strikes a terrifyingly macabre figure – part Mafioso boss, part Berlosconi. Harriet Walter’s Brutus conveys a wonderfully troubled, complex Brutus whose inner conflicts are always well delineated. Cush Jumbo and Jenny Jules – Mark Antony and Cassius respectively – present clearly spoken if one dimensional figures.
Julius Caesar is such an extraordinary charting of political power transferred under the most frenzied of circumstances, of those who conspire to destroy it and its consequent effect on their lives and relationships. Its shifts and currents can literally keep you on the edge of your seat.
Lloyd’s bold gestural, intelligent production seldom loses momentum but in a rattling two hour traffic doesn’t always manage to explore these ebbs and flows with sufficient subtlety.
These days, most single gender productions are themselves making a political point. Lloyd’s is no exception given the gender imbalance within the Shakespeare canon against women as creative artists. Fame is not so much the spur here as the opportunity to revamp Julius Caesar in a completely fresh, challenging and ultimately subversive image. This she achieves by some margin.
This review first published in Reviewsgate, Dec 2012
Calpurnia/Metellus Cimber/Pindarus: Jade Anouka
Caesar: Frances Barber
Prison Guard: Alice Bell
Casca: Ishia Bennison
Cinna The Poet/Drums: Helen Cripps
Portia/Octavius Caesar: Clare Dunne
Trebonius: Jen Joseph
Lucius: Charlotte Josephine
Cassius: Jenny Jules
Mark Antony: Cush Jumbo
Dardanius/Guitar: Irene Ketikidi
Soothsayer: Carrie Rock
Cinna/Volumnius: Carolina Valdés
Brutus: Harriet Walter
Lepidus/Clitus/Bass: Danielle Ward
Other roles played by members of the company
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Designer: Bunny Christie
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Sound Designer: Tom Gibbon
Composer: Gary Yershon
Movement Director: Ann Yee
Casting Director: Anne McNulty
Assistant Director: Hannah Price
Creative Consultant: Chloe Moss
Vocal Coach: Barbara Houseman
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Associate Movement Director: Carolina Valdés
First performance of this production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre, London on Nov 30, 2012