This production is a showcase on how to perform Shakespeare well. It is performed by recent graduates who can navigate their way through a soliloquy or two and who surf the demands of the iambic pentameter with ease. Their diction was excellent and the energy on the line was ever present. Many of the actors had graduated from the VCA in recent years. It is a testament to the fact that performing Shakespeare is still being taught well inside our Melbourne institution and still a vital component of what it is to be an accomplished actor.
It is only the actors and their skills along with some clever lighting (Lucas Sylvia Myles) that tells the ever-popular story of Julius Caesar. Nothing else. It is a bare bones production. There is little use of music or sound effects, no props or set. It is a ‘suit and tie’ production of Shakespeare that works extremely well. The female characters in corporate dress dominate the scenes and are well depicted by the actors. The modern dress nodding to the fact that this classic text resonates today with political jousting and backstabbing witnessed in Australian politics in recent years. The whole production relied upon decent acting and this is what the audience got – in bucket loads.
The small Friday night audience sat in the middle of the austere loading dock at Revolt Theatre which was cold, black and commodious. The many entrance points of this large and unusual space gave the storytelling urgency and propelled it along.
It is usually argued that Shakespeare’s treatment of the story of Caesar is that he is a man who dies because he is the brightest star in the Roman sky. As Cassius states “lesser mortals walk under his huge legs and peep out/To find dishonourable graves.” Christian Grant’s Caesar manages to convey this idea well. Grant gives us a charismatic tyrant with a strong aussie drawl. Grant performed his Caesar using charm but also gave us plenty of hints of Caesar’s arrogant and self-absorbed nature and his belief that he is invulnerable.
Grant’s ghost of Caesar was also powerful reminding the Romans of his legacy and conveying to the audience how his loss has affected them. The lighting was effective in this ghost scene that saw bright back lighting outlining his ominous figure.
The assassination scene was done symbolically. Grant shed his suit coat after the stabbing and walked away leaving his empty shell to be held by those at the death scene. The direction by David Lamb was economical and effective in many parts of the production, this scene being a highlight; however, perhaps more could have been made in the staging of Cassius’ and Brutus’ suicide scene at end of the play.
Seton Pollock’s Brutus was kind and bookish who was easy meat for Andrew Carolane’s Cassius. Pollock’s young and somewhat angelic face was perfect in depicting a man being dragged into the fray when he would rather be left alone and left to live a quiet life. Pollock’s sudden outbursts were convincing depicting a man who can no longer swim with the “tides of the affairs of men.”
Carolane showed Cassius’ skills in manipulation and his ability to talk his way through anything. With sharp diction, Carolane conveyed the story and the nuances of Cassius effortlessly.
A highlight was Grant playing Antony. The often anticipated “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” speech was performed by him with subtle emotion and dignity.
This production successfully conveys the machinations and power play between the play’s two contrasting groups. If Shakespeare was performed as well as this more often, our Melbourne theatre landscape would benefit greatly.