Julius Caesar | The Bridge Theatre
Despite having gone to uni in Shakespeare’s County and studying English Literature, my knowledge of Shakespeare is somewhat limited to what I read in high school. I do like Shakespeare but I’ve been wary of watching a performance that I haven’t already read. I was pleased to discover that while I may not have caught the nuances of the language and all the subtler meanings you get from reading Shakespeare, the story was really easy to follow (plus, it is based on one of the most famous betrayals in history so that was helpful too).
Julius Caesar is a Shakespearean tragedy which tracks the rise and fall of the eponymous character. It follows Brutus, Cassius and their co-conspirators as they form an alliance against Caesar for abusing his powers and turning the the people of Rome into slaves. They plot to kill him in order to free the citizens. There is a heavy focus on Brutus as he debates whether killing Caesar will be an honourable thing and ultimately what is best for Rome.
In this take on Shakespeare the characters use the original text with a contemporary setting from their clothing to Brutus’ philosophising and reading books on Stalin and Saddam Hussein. This is an effective tool as it brings the themes of betrayal, loyalty and valuing celebrity in leaders to the forefront, making it more relevant to a modern audience.
There is an excellent all-star cast including David Calder (Julius Caesar), Ben Whishaw (Brutus), Michelle Fairley (Cassius) and David Morrissey (Mark Anthony). The characters neither fit into black and white categories of good or bad and the ending is a bit brutal with a trumpeted triumph that feels like a pyrrhic victory.
As we walked into the theatre, before the start of the play there was a rock band on stage covering songs from Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ to Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. It took a little while to realise that this was actually part of the play with the band celebrating the rise of Julius Caesar.
We had promenading pit tickets which meant that it was an immersive theatre experience which I loved. In some parts of the play, the pit audience became extras being encouraged to cheer and clap for Caesar.
The ‘aha’ moment when Cassius says ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.’ (I.e. is not due to fate or powers beyond their control that they are slaves but due to their actions (or inaction)).
Adjoa Andoh as Casca was brilliant. She stole every scene she was in and her delivery of the lines were so much richer than any Shakespeare I’ve seen before. I just want to hear her quote Shakespeare forever.
Ben Wishaw was an excellent Brutus, as this is the character who has the most stage time and greatest number of lines, it was fascinating to watch him on stage especially as he is the most unsure of what the correct course of action should be.
More a warning than a complaint: there’s no interval! With a running time of 2 hours this is shorter than a standard theatrical production but a short break would have been welcome.
Minor complaint; lots of ‘debris’ made of foam fell from the ceiling during the war scenes which not only managed to land in my eye but completely coated everyone in the audience.
Lots of flashing lights. There was a small sign in the theatre which served as a warning for anyone that might suffer from epilepsy but I think they could have made this more obvious.
The Bridge Theatre is located opposite Tower Bridge and is brand new, having opened in October 2017.
The theatre space is large and for this performance, despite being on the ground, the stage rose from the ground in units meaning that
a. the set takes up more space than a traditional space
b. I could see really well from the ground (which at 5’2″ is a miracle)
As you enter the theatre, there is an open space with tables and seats ahead and the ticket desk and food/drink till to the right, it is a nice area to chill out in before the show.
Outside there is a lot of greenery and space to sit when your friend’s train is delayed and have to pretend to be her to collect tickets and need somewhere to wait for her before the show starts…