Julius CaesarPosted: November 8, 2013
I was very excited to see the all-female production of Julius Caesar at St. Ann’s Warehouse, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and brought over from the Donmar Warehouse (a fantastic theatre in London). I know that sentence sounds like a set up for the show being disappointing. And it wasn’t, but at the same time, I also wasn’t as blown away as I’d hoped to be. Perhaps I went in with expectations too high. This happens to me more often than I’d like.
But after thinking it over since this particular Halloween outing last Thursday, I think the underlying issue is that I am simply not a big fan of the play. Is that sacrilegious to say, Shakespeare fan that I am? Caesar has never done much for me as a reader or audience member. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I keep coming up relatively empty. Is it because I have trouble relating to the story? Do I not sympathize with any of the characters? Unclear.
Given that the story bores me, this production did a pretty decent job of holding my attention. First off, it is set in an all-female prison #orangeisthenewblack. The audience is escorted by extremely stern guards (ushers) into a sterile prison of pipes and scaffolding and lectured about how to behave before being led to our seats. I love this kind of thing – immediately transporting us into a new environment and setting the scene before we even take our seats.
These (very talented) women tell the iconic story that we know so well, straying only occasionally from the classical text for a handful of contemporary references (e.g. the prophecy of Caesar’s demise is a Libra horoscope). They have a fantastic grasp of the language, and they also stick to all of the original pronouns, referring to each other as men. This is typically a very male-heavy show, but it should be noted that the power or strength of that overwhelming testosterone is not lost with this cast.
Lloyd plays with the location and convention of the prison throughout but not as much as I would have liked. These were the moments that particularly grabbed me and made me sit forward in my seat – the recognition and awareness of the surrounding reality, like in Alan Cumming’s Macbeth. If anything, this switched things up from the standard plot. Whether or not the play does anything for me though, the cast is fantastic, and you get the feeling when the show ends that there is still more story to be told.
Fun side note: I should mention that at one point during the show, during the big senate scene I believe, all of a sudden I noticed someone sitting upstage in one of the chairs. After a little while, I thought to myself, is that person a part of the show? That doesn’t look like a woman. Yup, that’s a man…holding a program – an audience member who somehow managed to take a seat within the set and then sat there for close to 15 minutes, from Caesar’s death scene (spoiler alert) up through Mark Antony’s huge monologue. He was practically one of the conspirators. Hi-larious.
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
St. Ann’s Warehouse through November 9th
Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks
Pictured: Harriet Walter