Theatre Review: Julius Caesar


Julius Caesar

This Sydney Theatre Company production , directed by Benedict Andrews, has been receiving good reviews, so we went along to see it last Friday night. While there were some interesting ideas, on the whole I found the production unfocused and trying too hard to be clever. As is often the case, the director forgot to concentrate on the beauty and impact of the words in the race to stamp distinctiveness on his interpretation.

This was most obvious in the second act, where an already long play was slowed down to a brutal pace that, for me, leached the impact out of the performances. It’s often difficult to smoothly tear props up and down during a performance, but when Cassius (a greasy Frank Whitten) spent several minutes moving two tables and stacking chairs, surely even the most attentive theatre patron got sick of any possible metaphor and stifled a yawn.

Despite the choppy pace, the performances themselves were good. The authentically patrician Arthur Dignam gave Caesar the tattered dignity of an old Broadway queen (an impression reinforced by the casting, in an unnecessary nod to Elizabethan tradition, of a young man as his wife Calpurnia). Ben Mendelsohn began powerfully when cradling Caesar’s corpse, though I found his forum speech lacking in impact. Robert Menzies as Brutus took an odd approach by playing him as almost annoyingly indecisive and seemingly hungover; affectations that reduced the tragically noble character to seeming senility by the time he turned the knife on himself. Many of the players took multiple roles to usually successful effect, but Lucius, here played by a young girl (Maddi Newling) was a continual witness in every scene, a trick that became annoying and overused.

In fact, most of the characters, alive or dead, spend large amounts of time being mute witnesses to the events of the play, which perhaps reinforces the concept of us all being witnesses to the political and personal tragedies that surround us. In one example, though I missed the visual reference at the time, during one speech a voiceless actor climbed onto a box with a bag over his head in an echo of the Iraqi torture victim photos.

Some of the staging smacked of conceit to me—the punishing slow strobe light in one scene, the over-the-top sequences where the mob was portrayed as insane clowns, and the occasional, unnecessary, nod and a wink to the audience. Apart from the strobe sequence however, the lighting and sound were very powerful.

There was a feeling of trying to pack too much into this production. Shakespeare said it best—and sometimes, as here, theatrical trickery can serve to distract from, rather than reinforce, his words.

Two and a half ears out of five.