Ben Whishaw is a nervy Brutus in Nicholas Hytner's furiously exciting take on Shakespeare's Roman tragedy
This populist production of history’s most popular play about populism casts you as the populace. Nicholas Hytner’s in-the-round take on Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ replaces the stalls with a promenade area in which the audience mills about and fills in as the people of Rome. It kicks off with a live rock band bashing out ‘Seven Nation Army’ and scarcely lets up from there, walloping you around the head with enough dopamine to fell a baby elephant.
After opening his new Bridge Theatre with the so-so ‘Young Marx’, Hytner is back in his element with Shakespeare: his modern dress National Theatre interpretations of the Bard were pretty much all stunners. Nonetheless, there’s a fair amount of risk here, not just because of the immersive elements, but in Hytner taking a gamble on forgoing his usual nuance in favour of something more blaring and filmic.
Caesar (David Calder) is an applause-loving old ham with a natty line in red MAGA-style baseball caps (yours for £4 a go). He is not exactly Donald Trump, but the parallels are pretty apparent and he shares the tangerine tyrant’s desperation for the adulation of the mob.
Opposing him is the reliably excellent Ben Whishaw as a nervy, bookish Brutus. He is, I suppose, a classic liberal intellectual. Terrified of the dictator’s drift towards autocracy, he comes to believe in his naive desperation that the assassination of Caesar will fix the republic. Hytner’s production isn’t subtle but it’s not dumb, and is very good on the impossibility of combatting populists with reasoned argument: when Caesar is struck down by a heavy-hearted Brutus, David Morrissey’s bluff, dissembling Mark Antony simply steps into his place. Whishaw’s unworldly Brutus has completely failed to comprehend that another power-hungry leader would simply step into the vacuum left by Caesar’s death.
Nonetheless, Hytner doesn’t labour the lecturing in a production that for the most part unfolds like a chic, glossy spy thriller, contrasting Caesar’s brash rule with the irresistible gathering momentum of the conspiracy against him, headed by the reluctant Brutus and Michelle Fairley’s flinty Cassius. And it’s all tremendously gripping. Or at least it was standing up – I can’t speak for how it looks from the seats – as we’re hustled around Bunny Christie’s spare, flexible set by ‘security’.
Truth be told, the thrillerish aesthetic slightly founders in the final half hour, when the dogs of war are let slip and the conspirators enter a slightly underwhelming all-out confrontation with Mark Antony. But this isn’t uncommon in productions of this play, and Hytner keeps it all barrelling along at such a pace that you barely notice a drop-off as it whizzes by with all the sickening lurch of twenty-first century politics.
Average User Rating
4.5 / 5
- 5 star:24
- 4 star:15
- 3 star:0
- 2 star:0
- 1 star:1
Beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket. Absolutely stunning production with fantastic use of the space. Poor dumbed down and stolid RSC Julius Caesar had the misfortune to be on at the same time as this stunning immersive and thrilling production. Feels very much like a landmark. Whishaw and Morrisey will be battling out acting awards next year. Oh and try to get a standing audience spot. You will not regret it. Although Young Marx was good, this is the first complete triumph for The Bridge.
Keep your friends close, and the audience closer.
When I heard that I had standing tickets for Shakespeare I was a little worried I may find myself stuck behind a wall-shaped human who would make it impossible for me to see the celebrity-ridden stage, leaving me to decipher the words of the bard with no context clues. This couldn't have been further from my experience at Julius Caesar.
Nicholas Hytner expertly brings Shakespeare's tragedy into a modern setting that feels a little too familiar. I would like to say X stole the show, but the truth of the matter is not a single actor outshined their role (I mean that in the best way possible!).
From the opening scene, I knew I was part of the action. I cheered, I booed, I even felt a tear come to my eye. I was pushed, shoved, and moshed, and through it all, I had my eyes on the actors who where were just inches away. Do yourself a favor, and jump on the stage!
Very cool show and The Bridge Theatre is wicked. I had so much fun being in the standing zone right up close and personal with the cast. Loved the interaction but be prepared for a little shoving, darkness and lighting going off. Which might be a little overwhelming for some.
A quality cast, classic story and visually impressive staging are enough to warrant seeing this production, but it’s the integration of the audience which gives the show its USP. Full review here: http://bit.ly/2nbuTEg
Haven't been so thrilled in a Shakespeare play since the Almeida Hamlet. Both share the benefit of actors who truly understand Shakespeare and are conmfortable with the language and led by a director who wishes to welcome the audience, rather than lecture them or condescend (or in the case of the RSC production I saw in the theatre, bore them into submission). A beautiful living breathing production that allows the audience to share the play completely with this world class ensemble. While Whishaw is unsurprisingly superb as Brutus (up with the truly great Brutus performances), the revelation is Michelle Fairley as Cassius. This is both a populist and serious production which sets a standard for producing Shakespeare to which I hope other companies will respond. A sixth star would go to the venue.An early contender for best play of 2018 and Whishaw and Fairley as best actors. David Morrissey is terrific of course but if there ever was a man born to play Mark Antony, it is him. He is clearly having a riot in the part.
DO NOT MISS THIS PLAY if you love Shakespeare and great theatre.