It began with a live band rocking out Oasis tunes and us Promenaders in the mosh pit amongst the traders selling beers, nuts, Julius Caesar T-shirts, badges and baseball caps, and when Caesar himself arrived it was like the coming of Trump. Thus the scene was set for Nicholas Hytner’s epic version of Shakespeare’s play, updated into a mix between a political thriller and action movie, writes Michael Holland.
We are very soon in the midst of an OTT political rally with lots of flag and poster waving, and Caesar standing, Messiah-like, soaking up the adulation. Catching me off guard, the man standing next to me begins heckling, so I step away as Security head our way. ‘Beware the Ides of March,’ he bellows.
Over the next two hours we look on as conspirators huddle next to us to plot the demise of their ruler because they don’t like how he is leading Rome; see them recruit like minded allies, get tooled up and eventually assassinate their leader. What follows is a bitter civil war with the ratatatatat of machine gun fire, the smell of cordite as bombs are dropped, the raising of barricades in the streets of Rome, and the slow and painful defeat of these that conspired.
Down in the pit we get jostled about as camouflaged soldiers with automatic weapons rush hither and thither; we are covered in the smoke and fog of war, privy to secret liaisons, and witnesses to murder and suicide in this non-stop production that was created by ripping the heart out of the auditorium, leaving just an empty space from which Rome is imagined.
All involved get top marks for this: the light and sound designers, the production designer, Ben Whishaw as Brutus, Michelle Fairley as Cassius, David Morrisey as Mark Anthony, David Calder as Julius Caesar, all the supporting cast and Nicholas Hytner for making it happen. Every person went towards making it special.
Shakespeare is sometimes all Greek to me but here it is accessible to all and if you don’t mind being in the thick of the action when they let slip the dogs of war, then be prepared to stand for two hours. Otherwise get yourself a ringside seat to this Roman classic.
Julius Caesar is on at The Bridge Theatre, 3 Potters Fields Park, SE1 2SG until April 15th. Times: Tues – Sat 7.45pm; Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30pm, Sun 3pm, Admission: £15 – £65. Phone: 0843 208 1846