Review By Michelle Sutton
Sydney Theatre Company has brought to life a version of Julius Caesar that is clever, creative and surprisingly fun. Kip Williams directs the audacious production that is performed in the round at Wharf Theatre 1.
The cast consists of three excellent actors who play different characters: Geraldine Hakewill as Casca and Mark Antony, Ewen Leslie as Cassius and Caesar and Zahra Newman as Brutus. Hakewill has more fun performing Mark Antony’s iconic speech than probably any other actor ever has, Newman is serious and tortured as Brutus and Leslie as Cassius provides the levity and comedic moments. The original language of the 1599 Shakespeare tragedy is maintained throughout the dialogue with a few very impactful exceptions. The staging of the production is immediately striking. There is a raised platform in the centre of the theatre with a large cube hanging in the centre, where visuals are shown and where live video feeds are displayed when the actors use phones to film either themselves or each other to mimic a vlog style delivery. The creative team should be congratulated on their superb work, especially the designer Elizabeth Gadsby. The actors make the most of the unique staging, pacing around the platform with confidence and delivering very strong performances through the different types of media.
As someone who studied Julius Caesar as a prescribed text for their HSC English exams but is pretty sure they never read the actual play and just used Sparknotes, I was very interested to see how this new production would hold my attention. Williams has used modern references, images and direct quotes from today’s most polarising politicians to highlight the hypocrisy, corruption and performative nature of politicians across time. One constant from 44 BC to 2021 is that politicians will emote and emphasise and manipulate to turn the tides of public support, to get what they want and to hold onto power and influence. The use of zoom meetings and influencer videos and slogans to highlight this was incredibly funny and relatable. I was genuinely shocked and delighted by the satirical and absurd tone the play took from the second half onwards, bringing out a very different side of the timeless story.
The only constructive critique I could make would be concerning the lack of an interval. Shakespeare’s plays were traditionally performed without a break so many directors choose to preserve that essence however to me the lack of interval denies the audience the opportunity to absorb the dense dialogue and have a moment to rest. In addition to the obvious physical benefits of an intermission, they are so helpful to reset mentally and return to the second act with a renewed enthusiasm and alertness. I think there was a perfect point for an intermission in Julius Caesar right before Caesar’s funeral, as it is from this point that things started to get raucous, satirical and comedic. For me personally the lack of break time meant that I was struggling to pay attention and I was frustrated at myself for missing what I knew were jokes and clever references. I think it would be beneficial to have an intermission in this production as the second act is so vastly different from the first, and if audiences are not mentally ready they will not be able to fully enjoy the ridiculousness and wild fun of it.
Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Julius Caesar is an incredibly innovative and enjoyable take on the classic play. Whilst some theatre purists may find it takes too many creative liberties or incorporates too much technology, I found it very reflective of my generation’s political cynicism and social media experience. Kip Williams has done an excellent job reincarnating the drama and intrigue of Julius Caesar for this generation.
Photo Credit: Daniel Boud