Julius Caesar at The Bridge Theatre, London.
Entering The Bridge’s auditorium for this Julius Caesar is not the usual theatre-going experience. The stage and stalls gone, to be replaced with an open pit, in which a band is playing high energy rock, flags are being waved and red baseball caps (ring any contemporary bells?) are being sold to the assembled crowd. It’s quite a way to begin, but then this is quite a production.
The show’s unique selling point is the chance to be in the pit, not just surrounded by, but in the midst of the action. We, however, were sitting down. The reasons for this were twofold – we weren’t sure if my husband’s legs would hold out, and I’m a grand total of 5ft tall. No matter how sharp my elbows, there was always a good chance I would spent two hours staring at someone’s back. I constantly bless whichever Ancient Greek invented raked theatre seating.
For all non-standers, I am happy to report that the production is still thrilling, certainly from where we were sitting, on the extreme left of Gallery 1. (I can’t comment on the view from the higher galleries). Much of the action takes place on staging blocks which rise up from the floor, putting the actors on roughly our eyeline (but potentially giving the standees sore necks…). This position also gives you the chance to observe the crowd itself, which becomes essentially an extra character in the play. It also makes a political point about the behaviour of crowds – far from being detached observers, the crowd are swept up, joining in with chants and happily helping to lift Caesar’s giant flag, or hold pictures of him during the funeral scene.
Sitting or standing, this is a very powerful production, cleverly drawing parallels with the modern world. David Calder’s red tie-wearing Caesar (again, ring any bells?) is a man who has started to believe his own publicity, while Ben Wishaw’s intellectual Brutus is no match for David Morrissey’s Mark Antony. This latter was probably my favourite performance in the whole production, especially his delivery of the oration at Caesar’s funeral, where he very cleverly almost throws away the famous ‘Friends, Romans and countrymen’ line. I also liked Hannah Stokely as Cassius (standing in as understudy for Michelle Fairley), Abraham Popoola in various parts (including the warm-up band’s lead singer) and Leila Farzad as Decius Brutus, slyly and flirtatiously persuading Caesar to go to the marketplace and his doom.
Any criticisms I might make of the production are very minor: after such a high energy start, the first scenes felt slow, although the atmosphere quickly built up again, and do the very clear Trump parallels make it too hard to feel sympathy for Caesar himself?
I want to end by paying tribute to the stage crew, who – in costume – have to deal with not only a complex and moving set, but also do so whilst in the middle of several hundred audience members. This must be the stage crew equivalent of the Winter Olympics. Hail to them, and hail Caesar!
Julius Caesar runs at The Bridge in London until 15th April. It will be screened to cinemas on 22 March. https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/julius-caesar/