Julius Caesar at the Saint Lawrence Festival: this youthful staging highlights an excellent Richard Sheridan Willis in the leading role.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

20160708_103614

Photos: Drew Hossick

Julius Caesar  by Shakespeare, directed by Rona Waddington,

During the first moments of the play, the Roman tribune admonishes the silly  people of Rome for wasting their time rejoicing about Caesar’s triumph over Pompey : “You blocks you stones, you worse than senseless things!” Especially since the same crowd recently cheered Pompey when he came to Rome. In this first tableau, Shakespeare and director Rona Waddington make several points. The Tribune , a male role, is played here by a woman so we know we are in a contemporary world of theatrical fun (never mind Brecht) , especially as the carnival atmosphere bursts joyously onto the stage. The audience is seduced immediately . This first contact also emphasizes the important notion that the fickle Roman crowd is easily manipulated by any talented orator such as Mark Antony, Brutus or Cassius whenever it serves their purpose, and this is one of the important strategies of Shakespeare’s text which clearly appears to be indestructible, no matter what one does in the acting space.

Julius Caesar is full of wonderful soliloquys , superb rhetoric, touching exchanges between the senators,warrriors, between husbands and wives and moments that create truly tragic confrontations. Even as we hear Johnathan Purvis as Mark Antony subtly swaying the crowd in  the conspirator’s  favor just after Brutus (Ash Knight) in a strong moment has convinced them all that Caesar’s death was necessary for Rome, it quickly becomes clear that Shakespeare’s text soars above the crowd, even if the majority of actors seem to struggle with it. However, not even an accomplished actor such as Sheridan Willis (as Julius Caesar) who shows us we are in the presence of an actor who dominates his text, or even Michael Man who has some very good  moments as Octavius, cannot distract us from the generally unequal level of the performances .

Nevertheless, director Rona Waddington with her usual great sensibility and imaginative use of the acting space, has produced a youthful, playful version of the play with actors rushing up and down the amphitheatre,entering from all sides of the area, using  collective rituals and colourful spectacle with lively choreography of the attacking Roman armies, frightful nightmares that haunt the conspirators – where sculptures wielded by black clad creatures suggest avant-gard  forms  out of a cubist tableau!  Or what about the vestal virgins who float by in flowing white robes from the world of the Soothsayer, or the latin chants set to music by the talented Melissa Morris, who directs the choir singing portions of Carl Orf’s Carmina Burana and performs a very sexy young Portia with equal ease. Her beautiful blue dress as well as the other costumes by designer Alex Amini were bright, colourful and glowing with life…Not quite the products of a tragic or bloody world which we have come to expect in this play. It is all upbeat and positive. No doubt there has been enough horror in the world these days and they were glad to avoid that.

The portion of the performance that followed the intermission when the hunt is on for the conspirators and the opposing armies set up their strategies, was a lot more exciting because the battles turned death and sorrow into fun choreography and the ghost of Caesar came in to unsettle the murderers  but there remained a certain malaise because  something was missing ; the actors  seemed to lack experience and they also at times slid over the nuances in their texts because they were fixated on the emotional outpouring of a more obvious sort.

Attila Clemann’s minimalist set design draped with  burnt sienna  curtains, supported by huge roman pillers. suggested an arena where war, murder, and violent emotions could be staged in a space of highly theatricalized blood and violence, but it was all essentially playfulness. This is a  good-looking production intent on interesting an audience that is not in the habit of seeing Shakespeare and then why not?   And then  there is still Caesar, and he is so good!

Take note that there were a lot of young teenagers in the audience so it is a show that will attract and hold the attention of all ages. Julius Caesar plays until August 20 in Prescott by the Saint Lawrence

Note the coming on August 26 and August 27 at 1 and 7pm, of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery , directed and adapted by Rona Waddington.

Call 613-925-5788 for tickets and information


Past Reviews