The Bridge Theatre (venue)
02 February 2018 (released)
06 February 2018
Nicholas Hytner has brought together an unrivalled cast for the second production at his magnificent new theatre, The Bridge. It's a treat to see such lucid and deft handling of the text across the board. Julius Caesar may not be the most poetic or popular of Shakespeare's plays but it's certainly a political thriller that resonates with today's turbulent current affairs. In contemporary dress, the sight of city 'suits' rolling up their shirt sleeves to dip their hands into dead Caeser's bloody body, is particularly horrific.
Ben Whishaw, well known now for his roles in Paddington and Bond is a mesmerising stage actor. His Brutus is a thoughtful and fussy academic whose desperation to prove himself a good man is his weakness. David Morrissey as Mark Antony, a more social creature in touch with his generation, knows instinctively how to play the swaying tides of the people. Their contrasting speeches to 'Friends Romans, Countrymen' do not disappoint. As for Caesar, whilst Hytner refrains from giving David Calder Trump's orange glow, he has the silver haired, populist arrogance to a tee.
Given Phyllida Lloyd's, recent all female Julius Caesar at the Donmar, casting Michelle Fairley as Cassius and Adjoa Andoh as Casca, is no longer remarkable. In fact, at this point in time, a Julius Caesar with only the original female bit parts often feels like a regressive step. Andoh's performance as Casca is a show stealer with some sparkling comic moments. And Fairley has a touch of the Lady Macbeth in her relationship with Brutus, the gender dynamic bringing fresh readings to the text.
Set in the round with raised platforms that rise and fall to create new scenes, half the audience are standing in the 'arena', immersed in the dramatic experience. Shunted around by a large crew, the standing audience become the people of Rome to great affect. You can get much closer to the actors than groundlings can in the Globe and there's no chance of rain. However when the civil violence breaks out in the later scenes, with ash falling from the ceiling and actors crouching in bunkers the view from below may be immersive but it's pretty limited. I suspect the overall affect would be more impressive from the seats and prices are very reasonable compared to the West End. For that and all that is to come from this exciting new venue, Long Live the Bridge Theatre!