The Bridge Theatre.
31 January 2018
In this production, the newest star in London really got to show off its true capabilities, and that’s the Bridge Theatre itself. Having seen Young Marx at the venue, the reconfiguration of the space is astonishing. Gone are the stalls, and the stage has been raised for the audience to promenade and the action to be in the round. Nicholas Hytner’s explosive, stunning production is an immersive experience, even if you are sitting, at times your seat will move under you. If you stand, expect to become part of the action, as Bunny Christies’ superb design flows and moves with the audience- it’s rather wonderful that the crew also take a bow at the end.
But this is a production not made up solely of gimmicks. The band that welcome the audience, rocking out numbers at a rally for Caesar, cheekily play the White Stripes, (Ohhhh Julius Caesar…), and the energy they create is harnessed by the company and drives a superbly placed, excellently trimmed two hour production that mints each beautifully spoken line afresh. David Calder’s Caesar captures the vanity and power of a leader whose rule edges towards dictatorship. Wearing a red baseball cap upon his entrance, but no orange skin, Hytner’s interpretation doesn’t cross the border fully into Trump land, but the analogies speak for themselves. Ben Wishaw is excellent as Brutus, scholarly and intellectual, charting perfectly Brutus’s journey into huge moral dilemmas, debating every inaction and action and possible outcomes as fire and fury rage around him. David Morrissey is powerfully impressive as Mark Anthony, almost hidden until after Caesar’s assassination then, along with letting loose the dogs of war, letting loose a tremendous performance, his Anthony perfectly understanding the popular mood, swaying and manipulating the mob to his will.
Michelle Fairley is an outstanding Caius Cassius, the character who has tremendous, accurate insights into the consequences of Mark Anthony’s actions, and the urgency is picked up by Adjoa Andoh’s Casca, as the conspirators realise they have created a far worse situation without Caesar. The cast are faultless, and I particularly liked Fred Fergus’s loyal aide, often providing amusement, but also symbolising the more ordinary people caught up in war.
I thought the Donmar Warehouse all female version a couple of years ago set the high water mark for re-invention of this Shakespeare, but Hytner matches and pushes that, creating a Julius Caesar for our times, especially when we watch Mark Anthony brandishing what he claims to be Caesar’s will. It’s hard to stop the words “fake news” entering your mind. If there is one word to sum this production up, it’s exciting. It’s going to be hard to go back to the toga after this!