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The Theatreguide.London Review

Julius Caesar
Bridge Theatre   January-April  2018

Nicholas Hytner's production for the new Bridge Theatre is notable more for inventive production effects than as an interpretation of Shakespeare's play. 

Most of the characters are considerably simplified and their relationships flattened, and the play's explorations of honour, male bonding and Romanness almost completely eliminated. It is how the play is presented, more than the play itself, that may capture you. 

Certainly Ben Whishaw's Brutus is presented as far weaker, mentally and spiritually, than usual. The fact is underlined that he talks himself into the assassination with the most spurious of arguments, and many insight-providing moments are simply cut. 

The complex and attractive texture of his relationship with his wife is gone (leaving actress Leaphia Darko nothing to work with as Portia), as is the shifting dynamic of his bonds to Cassius. 

The main reason for both of those losses is that Cassius and most of the conspirators are played by women as women. This serves the admirable purpose of providing more roles for actresses, but not a whole lot more. 

Michelle Fairley is unable to find much in a female Cassius that wouldn't be there in a man, and the regendering actually loses some of the complexity of the Cassius-Brutus relationship.

It's because of this casting that Shakespeare's praise of stay-at-home live-through-her-husband Portia had to be dropped, and being surrounded and egged on by women makes Wishaw's already weakened Brutus occasionally seem henpecked. 

Elsewhere, David Calder's Caesar is a modern populist politician, playing regular-fella to the crowd but all imperious ego behind closed doors, while David Morrissey's Antony is a standard-issue hypocrite and crowd-manipulator. 

The most interesting thing about the production is Hytner's decision to stage it in promenade – that is, with several hundred of the audience inhabiting the same space as the actors, in effect becoming the mob, the citizens and the soldiers. 

Skilfully moved about by a team of audience-wranglers to keep them out of the way of the actors and of the bits of set that rise out of the floor for various scenes, they undoubtedly have a particularly intimate experience of the play and provide a strong visual image for those who choose to watch from more conventional seating. 

This device is not wholly original, of course, but Hytner certainly makes better use of the groundlings than just about any production ever at the Globe.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Julius Caesar - Bridge Theatre 2018