Cae-sar the Day!

Elizabeth Davis 21 January 2008

Julius Caesar, ADC Theatre, 15th-19th January, 7:45 pm

Reviewer Elizabeth Davis

4 stars

The European Theatre Group’s 50th anniversary production of Julius Caesar holds the audience’s attention in a vice-like grip, and does so without being particularly daring or different. With a hugely talented cast of actors, Uriel Adiv’s Caesar is a violent, political play in which passions constantly threaten to over-flow the restraints of decorum. Though action packed, the principle achievement of this production lies in the fact that the cast and the director have realised the potential of Shakespeare’s language. This play can feel heavy and long-winded but Adiv’s interpretation embraced the drama inherent in the words and not only kept the audience’s attention throughout each and every long, rhetorical speech but made these speeches some of the most thrilling episodes of the production. Indeed, the rhetorical sparring over Caesar’s body gave rise to what was undoubtedly one of the best performances of the play; Rob Carter’s portrayal of Mark Antony.

Despite Carter’s best efforts though, this was a production whose sensibilities lay with the conspirators: so much so that when they were defeated in the end, one rather begrudged Mark Antony the victory. Adiv hints at this bias in the programme, writing ‘Traditional readings lead us to identify an innocent man (Brutus) manipulated by an ambitious rival (Cassius)…This is to over-simplify matters’. In many ways, though, this production simplified matters even more, making the conspirators largely good and confirming the corrupt nature of the victors with a final flourish.

Political relationships and personal turmoil were in the fore of this production, epitomised in Ed Rice’s portrayal of an anxiety-riddled Brutus. Clearly this was no play for a woman. But as if to compensate for the conspicuous absence of the fairer sex, Adiv employed some bizarre and often confusing casting: women played cobblers, messengers and even soldiers. Even worse, the lines were modified to accommodate their gender (presumably out of a lack of confidence in the audience’s intelligence), resulting in the unlikely battle-cry ‘I am the daughter of Marcus Cato!’.

That said, Adiv’s production was professional and enthralling from beginning to end. Josh Higgott, as Cassius and Rice as Brutus carried the plot with panache and appealed to the audience’s sympathy. Personalities were largely ignored and violence was the order of the day resulting in a ‘Caesar’ loyal to Shakespeare’s text but with passion coursing through its veins.