Interview: Guy Unsworth

Staging Singapore Repertory Theatre’s latest Shakespeare in the Park production, Julius Caesar, is no walk in the park. Director Guy Unsworth tells us why

You know the story of Julius Caesar, but you’ve never seen it like this. Shakespeare in the Park by local theatre group Singapore Repertory Theatre returns after a two year hiatus with the staging of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Fort Canning Park from May 2 to 27, but in a modern and sleek setting. Think more House of Cards and less Gladiator. The play’s director, Guy Unsworth, explains how he’s making it a cinematic experience.

We all know the story of Julius Caesar so why stage a modern version?

People are surprised to find that it’s actually a timeless contemporary story. Shakespeare wrote it more as a dramatic political thriller and less of a historical documentary about men in togas. It’s a fast and furious journey about the betrayal and revenge in a high-end political world, which makes it almost like an action film.

Your fictional world is inspired by images of G20 and the NATO Summits. Tell us more.

Once we decided on the contemporary setting, we had to figure out what Rome would represent. In the story, Rome is considered a great empire, so we wanted to conceptualise something of that scale where the level of stakes and the behavior of politicians would affect an entire planet. The idea of an intergovernmental organisation seemed like a perfect fit – it’s not just a place but an honour and a responsibility. So we created the Rome Summit, our version of the United Nations.

So it's staged in the Shakespearean language then?

Absolutely, that’s one part we try to keep true to the original. I want it to be like a sexy HBO or Netflix show but still have a touch of Shakespeare.

Did you modernise the assassination of Caesar too?

Ah! That’s one spoiler I can’t tell. You’ll have to watch to find out.

You cast women for the roles of Caesar and Cassius. Why?

I felt it was important we represented the modern society the way it should be and celebrate the talents in the industry. And I don’t think Shakespeare ever wrote these characters to be gender specific.

What are some challenges you’ve faced while directing this play?

The fact that it’s staged in a park means the world is literally our oyster. There’s no backstage or a permanent structure to work with. But with a blank canvas, it’s always a struggle of ‘where do I start?’. Once we settled with the NATO and G20 inspiration, it was a big feat in creating the world. Our set designer Richard Kent built a 360-degree stage that provides a better audience experience and interactivity.

Shakespeare in the Park: Julius Caesar is at Fort Canning Park from May 2-27. Get tickets here

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